Duterte told to focus on boosting local production instead
MANILA, Philippines – Various rice-watch groups and a lawmaker have denounced President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration for allowing the importation of 250,000 metric tons (MT) of rice as the supply of government-subsidized rice dwindled in the past weeks.
In a press conference on Monday, February 12, Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estavillo lamented how Duterte chose to depend on importation instead of increasing the local palay production and boosting the National Food Authority’s (NFA) local palay procurement.
“Ensuring the country’s food security is the state’s responsibility to its people. However, instead of increasing local palay production and boosting NFA’s local palay procurement, Duterte, like his predecessors chose to depend on importation without a second thought,” Estavillo said.
NFA spokesperson Rebecca Olarte earlier bared that NFA’s buffer stock of about 64,000 MT at the end of January was at its “lowest monthly holding in 10 years.”
But on Monday, the NFA Council green-lighted the importation of 250,000 MT of rice in a bid to ensure rice availability and stabilize rice stock in the country.
For her part, Amihan (National Federation of Peasant Women) Chairperson Zen Soriano said the rice price hike had already taken its toll on peasant families.
“Most farmers earn barely enough due to the high cost of production. Almost every peso spent in rice production as well as the family’s basic needs are from lending and microfinancing institutions,” Soriano said.
“Peasant women are forced to borrow money from such institutions; many depend on two or three of those just to meet the needs of their families. Ang kababaihang magbubukid, nagungutang para may ipambayad ng utang. Ang mga magsasaka nagiging magsasako na lang pagkatapos ng anihan sa dami ng binabayaran,” she added.
Soriano stressed that importation would not solve but would only make the crisis of the local rice industry worse, especially that imported rice arrives in the country in time for the harvest season.
She said the government is willing to spend billions for private traders but not for its local farmers who have long been calling to uphold the mandate of the NFA.
AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, meanwhile slammed the Duterte administration’s move as a mere “band-aid” solution to the NFA rice shortage.
The group said the recently-approved importation will be on top of the 325,000 MT of imports under the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) scheduled to arrive this month.
“Rice importation will not resolve the chronic crisis of food insecurity because the global rice market is volatile. We are not assured of its availability and its price in the market,” it said.
The group pointed out that a genuine agrarian reform law, and the development of the local rice industry are the true solutions to the country’s perennial problem on food security and self-sufficiency.
Last week, Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao filed House Resolution 1676, which called for an investigation into the reported NFA rice shortage in the country.
Casilao echoed the sentiments of progressive groups, saying the Duterte government should prioritize the procurement of palay of local producers and act on HB 555 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill.
“We have four million hectares of agricultural lands, if it utilized mainly for food production, especially palay, we don’t need to import rice,” Casilao said. (davaotoday.com)