We now have an official “rice crisis”, underscored by the recent Food Summit and the pledge of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for a P43-billion rice budget. However, there are a lot of questions and speculations going on regarding this “crisis” including a possible distraction from the current political crisis.
For one, if UAP’s Rolando Dy is to be believed (in today’s Philippine Inquirer), there are ample stocks of rice for this year, with local production at 16.2 million in 2007, and 17.3 million MT in 2008. This will be supplemented by importation of 2.1 million MT of rice, of which 1.2 million MT had been procured.
The problem is the rising cost of rice, which some estimate to reach as high as an average P60 per kilo from its present P28 per kilo. The National Food Authority (NFA) pegs its own price at P18.75. This situation is tailor-made for unscrupulous traders and smugglers. Ironically, recent news showed that smuggling is done brazenly–from NFA warehouses straight into the seven major rice cartels’ warehouses, where they are re-packed into commercial rice sacks.
Of course, it has been a policy of the government for sometime to import rice directly as the sole importer. In theory, it is supposed to sell the imported rice to small retailers directly. In practice, it is the cartels–with connivance from corrupt government officials–who divert these into their own control. A variation on this tactic is to substitute imported high-quality rice with local inferior rice.
The connivance–if not the direct hand–of government officials in rice smuggling from NFA warehouses is underscored by the dearth of direct rice smuggling from abroad. Somebody or somebody’s group is making a killing on the supposed “rice crisis” and the expected panic which drives prices still higher.
In the medium- and long-term, there really will be a rice crisis, as well as a general food crisis globally. At the same time, global rice prices will continue to rise as rice-producing countries increasingly curtail and secure the need of their own population. A lot of factors also contribute to this, such as high population growth, slow scientific breakthroughs, climate change, and higher per capita consumption.
However, in the Philippine case, a major factor is the short-sighted government policy definition of food security as consumer-oriented securing “food on the table.” This policy contradicts the common-sense notion of securing your staple food through sustainable production. The illogical policy of tolerating population growth when it outstrips resources complements this disastrous rice trader-friendly policy. Failure to complete the land reform program and prevent land conversion schemes of prime agricultural lands also contributed their share to the government’s failure in achieving real food security.
P43 billion is a drop in the bucket and a palliative when seen against the backdrop of governance failure by successive administrations in the rice and food sector. The GMA administration shares some eight years of it.