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Why can’t food self-sufficiency be our new normal?

by Rosario Guzman

From the outset of the Duterte government’s military lockdown as its response to the spread of the coronavirus, it has directed the continuous flow of food commodities, along with medicines and other essentials. Food is inarguably essential to people’s survival during a pandemic and in its socioeconomic aftermath.

Government’s response however has fallen short in ensuring food production and supply. In fact, the military and authorities have controlled even the movements of the direct producers, both in tending their farms and selling their produce to the markets. Even activist volunteers who endeavored to bridge the farmers’ produce to urban consumers and to deliver relief goods to the farming families were detained and accused of violating quarantine rules and inciting to sedition.

The thing is, government has erased “food self-sufficiency” from its agricultural planning principles, now totally unheard of in the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022. It has instead focused on “economic opportunities” anchored on “market orientation”. The country’s lack of food self-sufficiency has made government’s coping with crises such as COVID-19 utterly chaotic.  It is the economy’s sinkhole that will make us fall deeper into a COVID-aggravated economic crisis.

Yet, eight weeks into the military lockdown, while it continues to wrestle with its insufficient health response, the Duterte government is talking of a “new normal” in agriculture. A closer look at the plan, however, reveals it to be a bunch of old habits that have hampered Philippine agriculture from achieving even the most basic goal of food security, much more self-sufficiency.

Pre-COVID crisis

Only eight weeks ago, the country’s “normal” agriculture was having its worst crisis in decades. The sector lost 1.4 million jobs in 2017-2019, the highest number in a three-year period in the last two decades. Its average annual growth rate of 2.1% in the same period is also lower than the 3.5% average in the last 70 years. The sector has also reached its smallest share in history at just 7.8% of the country’s gross domestic product.

In the first quarter of 2020, agriculture posted a 1.2% decline in output, finally collapsing after a momentary recovery from a decline in 2016 and a three-year slowdown thereafter.

Neoliberal policies that government has recklessly implemented are the culprit in agriculture’s near demise. Starting off with the evasion of free land distribution to tillers and rampant land conversions to favor finance capital, government has oriented agriculture towards commercialization, high value cash crops, inorganic chemicals dependency, paid-for irrigation, imported machinery, and trade liberalization. Agriculture is not a government priority, which is putting it mildly when the figures clearly manifest state neglect. The 3.5% average share of agriculture and agrarian reform in the 2017-2020 budgets is the lowest in two decades. In 2018, the Duterte administration delivered the coup de grace with the liberalization of rice imports.

Landowners and merchants have exploited this “normal” – that is the classic story why our food frontliners are the most destitute and hungry in Philippine society. And like adding insult to injury, the government points to farmers’ lack of capacity and technology (and interest to carry on) as the reason why food self-sufficiency is not feasible.

Government gross neglect

Then, COVID-19 happened. Government agencies could not even provide a full picture of our food buffer stocks. The Philippine Statistics Authority has stopped updating the rice inventory, for instance. This showed that, as of March 1, our rice stocks were enough for only 65 days, quite below the 90-day buffer. Vietnam’s announcement that it would implement a rice export ban added to Filipinos’ anxieties – Vietnam accounts for about 38% of Philippine rice imports.

A day before the declaration of a lockdown, euphemized as ‘enhanced community quarantine’ (ECQ), the Department of Agriculture (DA) made assurances that there was enough food for everyone in Metro Manila. The stocks of rice, vegetables and root crops, poultry and meat products, fish, and eggs were sufficient. It took time before some local government units started distributing relief foods, and even then mostly unhealthy canned sardines.

Farming has been disrupted. IBON estimates about 2.5 million farmers, farm workers and fisherfolk economically dislocated by the ECQ. The ECQ guidelines specifically allow establishments engaged in food production and trade but are painfully quiet about the farmers. Farmers’ organizations have said it succinctly – there is no work from home for them. They are subsistence farmers who will go hungry if they are not allowed to farm.

The Duterte government’s COVID response for agriculture under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act is to provide Php5,000 cash assistance each to only 591,246 beneficiaries under the Financial Subsidy to Rice Farmers (FSRF). But as of 28 April 2020, seven weeks into the lockdown, the Duterte government has served only 266,284 rice farmers.

Farming families may have been given cash assistance through the social amelioration program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which even then has only served 57% of its target 18 million beneficiaries as of 1 May 2020.

Granting that the rice farmers have indeed received subsidies, IBON estimates these to be equivalent to only Php80-119 per day over 49 days of lockdown, or less than one-fourth of the already low official poverty line of Php353 per day for a family of five.

Government’s meager and much-delayed response to the pandemic is pushing the poor and vulnerable farmers and fisherfolk deeper into poverty and hunger, which gets more and more morally unacceptable at this point in our crisis.

Photo by Lito Ocampo

Neoliberal inertia

The DA is among the first agencies to talk of a new normal. We should rethink and restructure our policies and practices, said DA secretary William Dar. But the DA’s emphasis on the continuation of neoliberalism especially under a global economy that is about to plunge into a grave depression cannot be missed. The Duterte government cannot fake a new normal narrative when its transition plan remains neoliberal.

The budget priority for the DA to transition to its “new normal” remains for cash assistance instead of production support. This is under the Rice Farmers Financial Assistance (RFFA), which is in line with the implementation of the Duterte administration’s rice liberalization law. The RFFA targets to provide Php5,000 to rice farmers who are tilling 0.5-2 hectares. The FSRF is in addition to RFFA and is packaged as the COVID-19 response, which targets rice farmers who are tilling one hectare and below. The total target beneficiaries of both packages are 1.2 million rice farmers nationwide, but there are 2.5 million rice farmers in the country who are definitely dislocated by rice liberalization.

The program priority is a food resiliency action plan that is aimed at an unhampered flow of food and agri-fishery products. It is anchored on the aforementioned cash assistance as consumption stimulus and market links such as the Kadiwa program, market satellites and market on wheels. In short, it is anchored on trade, again not so much on strengthening farmers’ production. The plan is also about popularizing urban and backyard gardening, which is overly focusing on individual consumers to go on survival mode instead of improving the production and conditions of farming communities in the real spirit of bayanihan.

The DA has proposed to implement nationwide the “Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat (ALPAS) Laban sa Covid-19” or what it dubs as Plant, Plant, Plant program to “increase the country’s food adequacy level”, with an approved Php31-billion supplemental budget. But this will be done by intensifying the use of quality seeds, inputs, modern technologies – which have been proven from experience to only add to the farmers’ debt burdens. The DA unfortunately has perennially acted as a marketing agent and endorsed the sale of seeds, inputs and farm machinery of big agribusiness to Filipino farmers, while it has shunned the promotion of agroecological practices.

The Duterte government still emphasizes that in order for agri-fishery to grow and cope with emergencies such as pandemics, the sector needs to attract more investments and resources and partner with the private sector. And there we are back on the neoliberal road.

Photo by RB Villanueva

Build the momentum

Surely, food self-sufficiency can be our new normal. But first in the face of a pandemic, farmers need fast and sufficient relief assistance, both for their daily needs and health services and as production subsidy. In the same manner that urban consumers should be relieved of paying their bills during COVID-19, farmers should have been long ago condoned of their mounting debts from unpayable land amortizations, loans from unscrupulous traders, and even from availing of government lending programs. Then, farmers and fisherfolk should be allowed to go to their farms and on fishing trips and deliver their produce to the markets.

But in the long-term, food self-sufficiency is about the assertion of an entire range of human rights. The state should recognize the right to food, the right to produce food, the right to till the land, and to have control of the land that farmers have been tilling for generations. Farmers have the right to choose their own production system, so as not to be dictated by the whims of the market and made vulnerable to market vagaries. We can envision an agriculture that is moving away from the profit-oriented concept of value chain that disregards the small producers and their environment, and move towards sustainable farming practices.

In the end, we can build the momentum for food self-sufficiency only from the farmers’ struggle and movement for genuine agrarian reform. And that should be our new normal. #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Farmers lose Php85 billion during first year: Peasant livelihoods destroyed, food insecurity worsened by rice liberalization

by IBON Media

Research group IBON said that rice liberalization has undermined the livelihoods of millions of farmers and most likely even pushed many into bankruptcy. It will only worsen the country’s food insecurity, the group said, as already seen with record high rice imports.

Enacted one year ago, the Rice Liberalization Law or Republic Act (RA) 11203 removed quantitative restrictions on rice importation and replaced this with 35% tariff on rice imports from the region and higher from elsewhere. The law was justified as the solution to high rice prices in 2018. Tariffs from the rice imports were also supposed to fund programs to make Filipino rice farmers competitive, eventually increasing their incomes.

IBON said however that the influx of record rice imports has devastated farmers’ livelihoods. The Philippines imported a record 3.2 million metric tons (MMT) of rice in 2019, surpassing the previous record of 2.4 MMT of rice imports in 2008 by 40 percent. That was the first time that the Philippines gained the dubious distinction of being the world’s biggest rice importer.

Huge rice imports caused palay farmgate prices to plummet, said IBON. The price of palay fell by 22.4% from Php20.14 per kilogram (/kg) in end-December 2018 to Php15.63/kg in the same period in 2019, said the group. Some major rice producing provinces such as Nueva Ecija, Isabela, and Laguna even reported palay prices as low as Php7/kg and Php10/kg.

IBON estimates that rice farmers in aggregate suffered a total income loss of Php84.8 billion in 2019 due to the catastrophic drop in palay farmgate prices. This is equivalent to an average income loss of some Php35,328 per rice farmer.

Farmers groups have reported that as many as 200,000 farmers were forced to stop planting rice due to income losses. Also, at least 3,000 of the country’s some 10,000 rice mills reportedly closed down due to the increase in rice imports.

IBON said that the widespread disruption of rice producers is intentional and the result of free market forces being unleashed on the country’s backward agriculture. The group assailed the economic managers for using high rice prices to justify pushing marginal and so-called unproductive farmers and millers into bankruptcy.

IBON said that the country’s food insecurity is getting worse under the Duterte administration especially because of the low government priority given to domestic agriculture including the rice industry. The country’s rice importation grew from the equivalent of around 5% of total rice production in 2016 at the start of the Duterte administration to 26% of total rice production in 2019. Unprecedented rice imports are exposing the country’s inability to produce sufficient quantities of its staple food, said the group.

IBON said that the rice liberalization policy is another indication of government’s long-time neglect and disregard of local rice production and agriculture in general. The group said that the government should not pit rice farmers and rice consumers against each other. Farmers and consumers have a common interest in the protection and strengthening of the domestic rice industry towards rice self-sufficiency. #

Real Duterte Legacy: Agri crisis belies admin claims of econ success

by IBON Media

Research group IBON said that the crisis in Philippine agriculture due to government negligence contradicts claimed economic achievements under the Duterte Legacy Campaign. The group said that the administration’s neglect and prioritization of local and foreign big business interests is worsening an already weak and struggling sector.

IBON said signs of this agriculture crisis include slowing sectoral growth; shrinking share in gross domestic product; rising import dependence; increasing trade deficit; significant job losses; and widespread rural poverty.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported a minimal 0.4% growth in agriculture in the fourth quarter of 2019. Under the administration, year-on-year growth trend in agriculture has been declining. From a contraction of 1.2% in 2016, agriculture bounced back with a 4% growth in 2017. But this was short-lived when growth fell to 0.9% in 2018 with a slight increase to 1.5% in 2019, noted the group.

IBON said that agriculture’s share in gross domestic product (GDP) has been declining from 8.8% in 2016 to 8.5% in 2017, 8.1% in 2018, and 7.8% in 2019. This is a far cry from its over 40% share in the economy in the 1960s.

While the country has been increasingly dependent on food and agricultural imports in the past couple of decades, this has further heightened under the Duterte administration, the group said. For instance, the country’s consumption of garlic imports was only 1.1% in 1990, but this surged to 91% in 2018.  Rice import dependency ratio (IDR) meanwhile decreased from 9% in 1990 to 5% in 2016. But this grew to 13.8% in 2018 and could worsen with the increase in rice imports due to the Rice Liberalization Law.

IBON noted that as much as 1.4 million jobs were lost in agriculture, with employment falling from 11.1 million in 2016 to 9.7 million in 2019. This translates to an average annual job loss of 455,000 in this period.

Another indicator of agriculture in crisis is widespread rural poverty, said IBON. Poverty incidence among farmers (34.3%) and fisherfolk (34%) is higher than the national average (21.6%), according to latest available figures. However, IBON estimates that at least 90% of farmers and fisherfolk are impoverished, if based on more reasonable standards of poverty measurement.

IBON said that despite its worsening state, the agriculture sector remains low priority for the administration. The 3.5% share of agriculture in the 2020 budget is the lowest since 2004 at 3.3 percent. The group also noted that annual average share of agriculture in the national budget from 2017 to 2020 was just 3.6% – the lowest since the Ramos administration (3.5%).

IBON said that agriculture, hand in hand with domestic manufacturing, is an important productive sector that, if supported and strengthened towards public interest, could help boost and sustain genuine development and job creation. The administration’s continued neglect of the sector and advancement of harmful pro-big business policies that are destroying local production and farmers’ livelihoods only shows how fake the Duterte Legacy really is, the group said. #

Senate unanimously opposes sugar liberalization

By Visayas Today

The Senate has unanimously opposed the executive branch’s plan to liberalize the sugar industry and will conduct an investigation, in aid of legislation, into the matter.

Senate Resolution 213, introduced by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, said the planned inquiry is aimed at “safeguarding the welfare of 84,000 sugar farmers and 720,000 industry workers in 20 provinces of the country.”

It noted that liberalizing the sugar industry would be “irrelevant and very untimely” since the Sugar Industry Development Act of 2015 “is barely four years in effect, and much of the programs and projects it envisions to implement for the development of the sugar industry are not yet fully realized.”

In a statement, Zubiri acknowledged the role of the industry alliance Tatak Kalamay for raising the issue and prodding him to rally his fellow senators against the plan.

“They (the senators) heard Tatak Kalamay’s plea and for as long as we are in the Senate, we assure you of our support and protection and we also urge the economic managers to conduct proper consultation before announcing such plans,” he said.

Zubiri urged government economic managers to abandon plans to liberalize sugar and instead “help us by ensuring the restoration of the full SIDA budget in order to make our industry competitive globally.” #

World biggest rice importer? Peasant group renews call to junk liberalization law

By JOHN AARON MARK MACARAEG
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – A peasant group has reiterated its call for the repeal of Republic Act No. 11203 or the Rice Liberalization Law as the country is set to be the world’s biggest rice importer.

Peasant women group Amihan, citing data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), said the Philippines will be importing up to three million metric tons this year, beating China’s 2.5 million tons.

China’s population is 13 times more than the Philippines.

In a statement, Cathy Estavillo, Amihan secretary general, said, “This is an epic failure of the Duterte government, when rice sources are supposed to be within the country, but his policies made this distant and even at the discretion of foreign traders colluding with local big traders, who will eventually dictate supply and prices in the domestic market.”

The Rice Liberalization Law was signed February this year to supposedly reduce the price of rice by removing the quantitative restrictions on rice imports.

This, however, only resulted in the falling farmgate price of palay, which fell to as low as P7 in Central Luzon.

Estavillo, also spokesperson of consumer group Bantay Bigas, underscored that they have repeatedly warned that “RA 11203 will turn Filipinos into beggars of imported rice.” “We all have witnessed this law causing bankruptcy to rice farmers, and this will lead to displacement and ultimately declined productivity,” added Estavillo.

The peasant rights advocate also said that becoming the world’s biggest rice importer in a mainly agricultural country is an obvious failure of the government to provide “food on the table.”

“We reiterate, Rice Liberalization Law is anti-peasant and anti-Filipino. It is an economic and social crime against Filipinos as it threatens our inalienable right to food and food sovereignty,” Estavillo said. #

Will collective farming by artists save one of Manila’s remaining urban fields?

By Mong Palatino

In the Philippines, a group of artists and volunteers have turned themselves into farmers to cultivate a piece of land situated in the heart of the larger metropolitan area of Manila as part of a campaign to prevent evictions of land tillers. The group, which belongs to the Alliance for Genuine Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, an organization known locally as SAKA, advocates for peasant rights in the Philippines.

In an interview with this author, SAKA leader Angelo Suarez explained what motivated the group to organize what is called a a bungkalan, a collective land cultivation in Quezon City, one of the sixteen cities making up Metro Manila whose total population reached nearly 13 million in the last 2015 census.

As peasant advocates who advance agroecology, we wanted to participate in agricultural production.
In the spirit of bungkalan, we thought this was a great chance to start participating in production and learning the rudiments of both organic agroecology and organizing a community for the assertion of people’s rights.

Suarez related the complicated history of this specific piece of land: initially used as farming land, it was grabbed from peasant communities in the 1930s to become a territory of the newly established Quezon City. Its status changed again in the 1950s when it was donated by the government to the University of the Philippines Diliman (UP), the country’s premier state university.

The land then remained underdeveloped over the next five decades despite the rapid urbanization of Quezon City. In the mid-2000s, the local peasant community successfully petitioned the government to put the land under the coverage of the agrarian reform program but UP contested this notice of coverage by ‘colluding’ with the Quezon City local government in rejecting the terrain’s agricultural classification. Indeed UP plans to build a parking lot in the community.

Yet Suarez is adamant the land should be considered as an agricultural area, as he explained:

It is a bit strange that a farmland can exist in what appears to be a highly industrialized city. But given the reality of uneven development, there does exist a large farmland in Quezon City that resembles nothing of its urban surroundings. Sure, it’s not agricultural on paper—but all it takes is a quick visit to the actual site to determine there’s nothing industrialized about this part of Quezon City at all. In fact, it is so bereft of industrialization that much of the work carried out on the farm is done by hand. The farmers cannot even afford the fuel needed by their rusty old hand tractor to make it work. Even threshing unhusked rice is done manually. What SAKA does is help maintain—and eventually prove—the agricultural status of this farmland by keeping it productive.

Suarez said SAKA started working in the area in early 2019.

We sought permission from the local peasant community to let us till the few square meters they had left unkempt for its difficulty to till. We worked the land for months, till it’s finally able to yield eggplant, okra, pechay [a form of cabbage] , string beans, and other vegetables. We are yet to devise a more efficient system for portioning out the produce among those who’ve worked on it, but for a good span of time all produce was for anybody’s taking: primarily the resident farming community, then the SAKA volunteers who’ve worked on it.

But the group now faces a series of challenges:

The first challenge is the fact that, being artists, literally none of us is a farming expert. Once in a while we get volunteers who have experience in urban gardening and amateur organic farming—but this land is the real deal, we’re practically starting from scratch on actual agricultural land.
Another setback is our lack of experience in organizing. Many of us in SAKA are new activists, and while we are guided by seasoned peasant organizers, many of them spend more time in the countryside where most of our peasant communities are.

Suarez reported how a series of rains flooded SAKA’s little portion of the farm, thus they started digging a makeshift canal system to get rid of excess rainwater. This project has become their number one priority and will remain so in the next few months:

We’ve been digging canals to jumpstart another massive till; the makeshift trenches we’re making should prevent another flooding from killing our crops. Ka Toto, one of the resident farmers and an active member of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) partylist group, reminds us that the last quarter of the year is a great time to plant, a season conducive to growth. So we have to work double-time in gathering volunteers to join us. To do this, we have been actively campaigning in different forums, talking about bungkalan as a nation-wide mass movement that plays a significant role in the peasant struggle, as well as about bungkalan itself as an urgent intervention in UP’s forthcoming eviction of resident peasants.

It is unclear if the law signed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on August 2019 allowing UP to sell portions of the farming land to the Quezon City government would resolve the dispute. But initiatives like the bungkalan organized by SAKA are helpful in raising awareness about the need to preserve this farmland in the center of Quezon City, and to resist the eviction threat against residents in the community.

Below are more photos from SAKA’s bungkalan activities:

Farming in the city with a high-rise in the background. Source: Facebook, used with permission
Planting activity organized by SAKA. Source: Facebook, used with permission
Volunteers of SAKA. Source: Facebook, used with permission

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)

Agri sector slumps due to continuous government neglect

by IBON Media

Even prior to rice liberalization, the country has become increasingly dependent on food imports.”

Long-time government neglect and low prioritization has put the agriculture sector in a chronic crisis, said research group IBON.

The group said that this is in line with government’s advancement of neoliberal policies favoring local and foreign big business. The Duterte government continues this by giving minimal support to the agriculture sector.

IBON said that declining share in gross domestic product and agricultural productivity per capita, increasing import dependence, rising trade deficit, and widespread rural poverty are signs that this crisis is worsening. 

The agriculture sector’s share in the economy has shrunk from over 40% in the 1960s to less than 10% in 2018.

Agricultural productivity per capita peaked at Php7,862 in 1981, declined, and then was in a period of recovery from 1999-2008.

But agricultural productivity per capita again fell to Php7,052 in 2018, noted the group.

IBON also said that the country has become increasingly dependent on food imports even before rice liberalization this year.

For instance, garlic imports made up only 1.1% of the country’s consumption in 1990, but this spiked to 90% in 2017. Import dependency ratio also increased significantly with coffee (-7.7% to 56%); beef (8.5% to 36%); tuna (3.7% to 17%); onion (-14.3% to 15%); potato (0% to 15%); and pork (0% to 13%) in the same period.

Meanwhile, rice import dependency ratio declined from 9% in 1990 to 5% in 2016. But this rose to 6.6% in 2017 and is expected to be higher due to the influx of rice imports under the Rice Liberalization Law.

The agriculture trade deficit has also increased by 30 times from US$287 million in 1994 to US$8 billion in 2018.

In the first quarter of this year, the agriculture trade deficit was a staggering US$2.1 billion, said the group.

IBON said widespread rural poverty is another indicator of agriculture in crisis.

Official figures show that the poverty incidence among farmers (34.3%) and fisherfolk (34%) is higher than the national average (21.6%).

IBON estimates that, if based on more reasonable standards of poverty measurement, at least 90%, if not all farmers and fisherfolk, are impoverished.

This chronic agriculture crisis is due to government’s chronically low prioritization of the agriculture sector, said IBON.

The group noted that from 1981 until 2020, the annual average share of agriculture and agrarian reform was only 4.1% of the national budget.

This low priority of agriculture is being continued under the Duterte administration.

The group said that the 3.5% share of agriculture in the proposed 2020 budget is the lowest since 2004 (3.3%).

Also, from 2017 to 2020, the annual average share of agriculture in the national budget was only 3.6% – the lowest since the Ramos administration (3.5%).

The average share of agriculture was higher under Estrada (4.4%), Arroyo (4.7%), and Aquino (4.2%).

IBON said that immediate steps government should take to arrest the agriculture crisis is to wipe off if not significantly reduce all forms of loans including amortization for awarded lands, and to substantially increase support and subsidies for the agriculture and agrarian reform sectors.

It should also suspend, and eventually repeal, policies like the Rice Liberalization Law, that are harming domestic production and farmers’ livelihoods.

But to truly strengthen domestic agriculture, government needs to implement long-term policies that prioritize rural development over big business interests. #

158 days

Ni Pia Montalban

Tinataras na natin ang araw
ng ating pagkakapiit.

Sinong makababatid
kung pagbibilang ba ito ng sakit
at pag-aabang ng higanti, 
o kung pagkatanggap sa pinosas na bukas
at pagbibilang ng pagsuko ng imik,

sinong makapagsasabi
kung aling apoy ang nagpakulo
ng nagsusumabaw nating poot at galit?

Ang bilang ng paglalapit
ng bayan na remata’ng sinapit
o ang paglalagkit ng pait
sa ating mga nakaambang karit?

‘Paano na ang mga magsasaka?’

President Rodrigo Duterte has recently approved the Rice Tarrication Law, allowing massive rice importation into the country.

Cartoon by Mark Suva/Kodao

Rice tariffication will displace rice farmers, worsen food insecurity–IBON

Rice tariffication and uncontrolled rice imports will displace rice farmers and worsen food insecurity without solving the problem of expensive rice, research group IBON said.

The government is using high inflation to justify rice sector liberalization according to long-standing demands of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and big foreign agricultural exporters.

Domestic agriculture should be strengthened with ample government support instead of being prematurely opened up to cheap foreign government-subsidized imports from abroad, said IBON.

Senate Bill 1998 or the Rice Tariffication Bill, which was approved by the Philippine Senate on third and final reading recently, is currently undergoing bicameral deliberation.

Government said that this will protect the rice industry from volatile prices, and consumers from rising inflation.

The measure is also supposed to earn Php10 billion annually which will be used to fund development of the local rice industry.

IBON however stressed that uncontrolled rice imports will drive rice farmers into worse poverty.

If the Philippines imports two million metric tons of palay, for instance, some 500,000 of around 2.4 million rice farmers will be adversely affected.

Even the government’s own Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) projects a 29 percent decline in rice farmers’ incomes from a Php4-decrease in palay farm gate prices when rice tariffication is implemented.

As it is, farmers’ average monthly income of Php6,000 at the Php21 farmgate price is already far short even of the government’s understated Php9,064 average poverty threshold for a family of five.

It is also not even one-fourth (23 percent) of IBON’s estimated monthly family living wage (FLW) of Php26,026 for a family of five as of October 2018.

Filipino rice farmers are unproductive and domestically-produced rice is unnecessarily expensive because of long-standing government neglect of the agriculture sector.

No more than five percent of the national budget has been given to agriculture over the last two decades.

The Duterte administration does not correct this and, for instance, the Php49.8 billion 2019 Department of Agriculture (DA) budget it submitted to Congress in July is just 1.3 percent of the national budget and even Php862 million less that its cash-based equivalent of Php50.7 billion this year.

The hyped Php10 billion (US$190 million at current exchange rates) rice development fund of the Rice Tariffication Bill is too little and too late, said IBON.

This compares unfavorably to rice industry support given by other rice producers including some countries the Philippines imports rice from — Vietnam (US$400 million), United States (US$619 million annually), Thailand (US$2.2-4.4 billion), India (US$12 billion), Japan (US$16 billion), and China (US$12-37 billion).

IBON also pointed out that there is no guarantee that retail rice prices will be lower in the long run with unhampered importation.

Relying on rice imports makes the country vulnerable to higher world market prices as well as to rice production and export decisions of other countries.

In 2008, for instance, IBON recalled bow Vietnam, India and Pakistan restricted their rice exports amid rising global rice prices.

Thailand also raised the idea of creating a global rice cartel similar to that for oil exporting countries.

Government’s neoliberal prioritization of food imports and production of crops for export should be reversed, IBON said.

The Philippine government should instead strengthen the local rice industry. This begins with free land distribution to all willing tillers, followed by giving substantial support for rice producers, and taking control of the market to ensure reasonable prices for rice and other agricultural produce. #