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‘Rice industry is at the risk of annihilation’

“Only private traders and importers, as well as rice cartels, benefit from importation while the livelihood of our farmers and the entire local rice industry is at the risk of annihilation.” – Cathy Estabillo, Spokesperson, Bantay Bigas

Continuous war against the poor

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

August 14, 2018

As the Congress approves House Bill 7735 or the Rice Tariffication Bill on third and final hearing, the Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes, Inc. (PNFSP) expresses its strong indignation as it will definitely not address the root cause of continuous food insecurity, rice shortage and worsening poverty in the country. The bill is systematically, mechanically and logically favorable to domestic and international rice cartel operators. It will further exploit the already exploited Filipino farmers and fishermen by forcing them to produce big bulk of rice, meat and fish just to meet global dictum and for importation which are all within the mechanism of HB 7735.

The House Bill 7735 has an intention to put safety nets for Filipino rice producers by imposing tariffs in lieu of quantitative restrictions on rice imports including fish and meat. It was pursued in line with President Duterte’s order to the Congress last July 23 to immediately pass the measure which targets to arrest inflation for at least 1% thus, minimally affecting the reduction of commodity prices. Though the bill mandates the National Food Authority as the sole authority to undertake the direct importation of rice for the purpose of ensuring food security and maintaining sufficient national buffer stocks, there’s no big assurance for common Filipinos to have food security due to neo-liberal agreements signed by the past administration.

The Rice Tariffication Bill will remove tough government control in all agricultural commodities and will oblige our domestic market to join and spend unnecessary resources to global rice market and competition. It will be a burden to all Filipinos especially the 60 million poorest of the poor families because of the high possibility of price increase on all basic commodities like rice, fish, meat, canned goods, vegetables, bread, etc. due to bloating rice import and unstable status of the global market which was further intensified and legalized by the TRAIN Law. In a country where landlessness, joblessness and homelessness are proliferating, the bill will not be of help to the majority of Filipinos. It will lead to farmer’s bankruptcy, drowning in debt and displacement from their lands. It will put farmers at a disadvantage situation especially that the government have minimal support to our rice producers.

In order to address poverty, food shortage and inflation, it is very timely to pass the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill for it has the capacity to uplift the lives of the poor majority Filipinos. Rural aid like free water irrigation, free calamity subsidy, post-harvest facility, agrarian mechanization and boosting of local market. Land conversion must stop because it contributes to the unceasing decrease of tillable land which affects the annual productivity rate of agriculture including aquaculture that shakes our food security.

Lastly, we want to reiterate that the right to safe, healthy and sustainable food system is a basic and universal human right which the Philippine government must abide with. There is no need to pass the Rice Tariffication Bill including the TRABAHO Bill for it is not favorable to all common Filipinos both in public and private sector. We must act and pray that the Senate will hear and consider our intention.

 

RENMIN VIZCONDE

Executive Director, Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes, Inc.

Rice tariffication to impoverish Filipino farmers more, Congress warned

Research group IBON raised concern over the current move by the House of Representatives (HOR) to lift the quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice imports and instead apply a 35 percent tariff on unlimited rice importation.

This will practically decrease farm gate prices, said IBON, but not necessarily lower retail rice prices as government claims.

Rice prices have increased for six straight months in 2018 – by Php2.53 from Php37.83 to Php40.36 for regular milled rice and by Php1.61 from Php42.58 to Php44.19 for well milled rice.

Consequently, government called for additional importation ahead of the schedule for the minimum access volume (MAV), a commitment under the World Trade Organization (WTO), and for Congress to rush the rice tariffication bill to lower the price of rice and ensure support for farmers.

IBON however said that as it is, the prevailing farm gate price of Php21 does not provide sufficient income from the farmers’ average production cost of Php12 per kilo.

Computing the average yield of 80 cavans of palay from one hectare, which is equivalent to 4,000 kilos, the rice farmer earns only Php36,000 until the next cropping.

Each cropping commonly lasts for six months, which means that the farmer’s average monthly income of Php6,000 is 76 percent short of the estimated monthly family living wage (FLW) of Php25,454 for a family of five.

If higher importation will decrease farm gate prices, the already insufficient income of farmers will fall further, IBON said.

Retail prices, on the other hand, will not likely automatically go down with increased rice imports that supposedly stabilize supply.

The years of highest importation are also the years of highest price increases, IBON observed.

For instance, when rice retail prices increased by Php7.99 per kilo during the rice crisis in 2008, the country was already importing an average of 1.8 million metric tons (MMT) for three years, an unprecedented volume since 2000s.

When the country imported even more at a yearly average of 2.2 MMT from 2008-2010, retail prices continued to increase by an annual average of Php1.20 until 2016.

The farmers are themselves rice consumers, IBON said, and will be affected badly by lower income yet continuously increasing rice retail prices.

The group added that Congress may be misguided for placing hopes on unlimited rice importation for stabilizing supply and prices while the rice industry remains dominated by an alleged trading cartel that dictates rice prices. #