Rice Tariffication to aggravate hunger, wipe out local rice production

Instead of boosting local rice production, the Duterte government has signed into law the Rice Tariffication Act that will pave the way for the influx of imported rice. Importing rice abundantly produced in our country spells more hunger to the local farmers and a bane to food security. This will result to more farmers being discouraged from continuing their farming. Lest Filipinos forget, we have experienced how in 2008, the government during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo over–imported rice and yet, the prices of this political commodity skyrocketed.

Hence, ASCENT (Assert Socio-Economic Initiatives Network), a network of 30 NGOs all over the country, where majority of its members are working to promote sustainable agriculture,, is joining the call for the repeal of the Rice Tariffication law.

One of the biggest problems that pestered our farmers and agriculture is the apparent neglect of the government – the lack of needed and adequate support to local production, marketing, and distribution especially of staple crops. One of the functions of the National Food Authority (NFA) is ensuring food security of the country through the stabilization of rice supply. It does so through the procurement of palay from farmers and their organizations, buffer stocking, processing, and distribution of the staple grain to various marketing outlets at appropriate times of the year. With the Rice Tariffication law, the NFA will be stripped of its regulatory powers, giving much leeway to private big monopoly traders.

Imported rice may be cheap at the onset compared to locally produced staples, but, once the country fully relies on imports and has lost its capacity to produce its own, Filipinos can then be held hostage to skyrocketing prices of imported rice at the behest of exporting countries and at the whim of profit-driven big rice traders and rice smugglers.

Moreover, another issue is food safety. “Cheap” imported rice already flooding the country are of low-grade and probably “unsafe” for human consumption. Remember the weevils-infested tons of rice imported last year that were just sprayed with chemicals and still distributed for consumption.

Filipinos must bear in mind that once palay is harvested, it will only last up to 6 months to keep its quality. After it is milled, it can only be good up to 2 months otherwise, it has to be treated with various chemicals to keep its pristine white color and get rid of weevils. Thus, imported rice shipped to the country in millions of metric tons must have been laden with chemical preservatives and pesticides to keep it white. One can in fact, distinguish the taste of “cheap” imports from locally-produced rice.

The government has always been callous to the hunger situation already hounding the farmers and the millions of poor people in this country. It is hell-bent in abiding to the import liberalization policy dictated by the World Trade Organization at the expense of the many Filipinos.

While ASCENT is strongly opposed to the Rice Tariffication Act it believes that genuine agrarian reform should be realized to give the farmers the tenurial security in cultivating the lands. This will greatly help in addressing poverty among farmers and ensuring food security in the country. Equally important is the government’s much needed support to production through the enforcement of the Organic Agriculture Act and provision of free irrigation and post-harvest facilities. The National Food Authority’s supposed role should be strengthened which is mainly to procure even up to 25% of the play produce of the farmers instead of focusing on rice importation, leaving the local rice farmers at the mercy of monopoly traders and rice cartels who are currently controlling the farm gate price of palay.

The Duterte administration must learn from the experience of Vietnam and other rice-exporting countries whose governments are fully supporting their own farmers through subsidies, after implementing a thoroughgoing land reform program. The Philippine government should above all, be protective of its own farmers and the general population instead of kowtowing to the economic policies of globalization. ####

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AscentPH is a national alliance of development organizations determinedly working for the empowerment of the people through poverty alleviation and promoting and defending the right to development and other fundamental human rights and freedoms.

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