How to support the hands that feed us

Rice nations like Thailand and Vietnam may stop exporting if the global rice shortage becomes serious. We will be forced to depend on our local farmers more.

September 16, 2022

According to rice farmers, a reasonable increase in rice/palay prices, as proposed by the National Food Authority, goes a long way to keep them afloat without too much burden on the part of consumers. We can consider this as an ingenious form of “rice subsidy” from consumers in behalf of the farmers who feed them.

Overimporting rice results in lower rice prices to the detriment of the farmers. We can actually kill our rice productivity by over importation. But the problem is two-fold. First, there are vested interests who get big profits from imported rice. Second, there is a gnawing fear that a rice shortage would backfire on the government, on PBBM and the NFA.

So, we need to walk a tightrope between overimportation, inducing a glut, and underimportation, inducing a shortage, with an awareness of support for rice farmers. It is not an easy job.

Dr. Ted Mendoza, retired crop science professor at University of the Philippines-Los Baños, says the harvest season just started, with NFA setting the price “sobrang baba at P19/kg dry = P16/kg direct from the thresher. Lugi or breakeven lang farmers (low price resulting in farmers breaking even or selling at a loss). It should be P22/kg from thresher or P25/kg dry na.”

Perhaps, NFA heard the voice of Prof. Ted and the Alliance for Resilience, Sustainability and Empowerment, supporting the agency’s new plan for a price increase to a reasonable P22/kg for cleaned palay, or P25 for dried palay. This will give farmers earnings of “not less than P10/kilo. Anything less would badly hurt the farmers.”

The quick reaction from the NFA is perhaps due to PBBM sacking officials from the Sugar Regulatory Administration. All of a sudden, the import agencies are on their toes, more scared to overimport to protect our agri-industries, rather than underimporting that might induce a shortage.

NFA, however, cannot buy all the farmers’ rice. Traders buy the rest, but their prices are way too low. PBBM through the DA can simply impose a minimum buying price for traders based on the NFA price.

ARISE convenor director Arze Glipo hopes legislators and local governments can get additional NFA from the Land Bank of the Philippines, which has reportedly expressed willingness to offer loans to farmer associations. Glipo adds “It is far more beneficial if the DSWD buys palay directly from the farmers, or include farmer families as beneficiaries of ayuda, as they really are deserving of the government’s doleouts.”

Prof. Ted says, “An amount as little as P1 to P2 will not hurt the purse of our legislators or the LGUs.” It also will not hurt consumers. ARISE says it is such little sacrifice, but the impact is so deep for farmers, who have been wallowing in marginal existence for so long.

Indeed, this is a welcome paradigm shift to support the hands that feed us. The move has a direct effect on farmers producing more for the next crop season, and on reviving our ailing rice industry.

Mindanao farmers starting their harvest lauded the calls of NFA and ARISE for increased palay prices. Flor Comendador, a farmer leader, is requesting the DA for post-harvest facilities, such as drying equipment and trucks to transport purchased fresh palay. She cites the difficulty to bring produce to NFA warehouses, forcing farmers to sell at a lower price to traders who take advantage of the situation.

Director Glipo also believes it is far more beneficial if the DSWD buys palay directly from the farmers, or include farmer families as beneficiaries of ayuda, as they really are deserving of the government’s help.

In a recent agriculture forum, Glipo of ARISE says, “The bomb ticks every minute. PBMM should heed the call of farmers before this food crisis blows up into a food calamity.”

We hope this message reaches PBMM, who wants to strengthen our agricultural economy, especially during this ongoing global drought that has hit all seven continents except Antarctica.

The gas crisis due to the war in Ukraine has depleted nitrogen-based fertilizers, contributing to future rice shortages worldwide, according to the South China Morning Post. Food prices are predicted to rise slowly as the food shortage intensifies, especially rice. Rice nations like Thailand and Vietnam may stop exporting if the global rice shortage becomes serious. We will be forced to depend on our local farmers more. We might as well start now proactively.

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eastwind/[email protected]


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