Corn growers call new rice policy unrealistic

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THE Philippine Maize Federation (PhilMaize) said the abandonment of the policy goal of rice-self-sufficiency does not reflect reality, with Filipinos still favoring rice over other staple carbohydrates.

“This does not reflect what is on the ground. We are a nation that mostly eats rice and a little bit of corn,” PhilMaize President Roger V. Navarro said in a statement over the weekend, suggesting that advocates of more liberal rice imports are conducting theoretical exercises in mapping out agricultural policy.

“(Budget) Secretary (Benjamin E.) Diokno should calibrate his pronouncements (when he sits at his) table planning for us in the field. They don’t even know if their words inspire or hurt farmers’ feelings,” Mr. Navarro added.

The rice tariffication bill was signed into law by President Rodrigo R. Duterte last week. This will allow more liberal rice imports by the private sector, with the shipments to be charged tariffs which will help finance a rice industry competitiveness fund while bringing rice prices down for consumers.

Mr. Navarro said if rice exporting countries decide not to sell their produce, it could ultimately lead higher prices.

“We cannot abandon growing in favor of importing it. [In] 2007 to 2008, our country had money to buy rice but exporting countries refused to sell, then prices went to the ceiling. We don’t want a repeat,” Mr. Navarro said.

On Thursday, a day prior to Mr. Duterte signing the bill, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said that relying heavily on imports will kill the rice industry.

“Ten years from now, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Pakistan and India will no longer be able to export the same volume of rice that they ship out today. They have to feed their growing population as well,” Mr. Piñol said.

“This is a shortsighted view which will kill the rice industry and drive away farmers from the rice fields. The next generation of Filipinos will surely curse us for this misjudgment prompted by a myopic view which focuses on fleeting and changing economic numbers,” according to Mr. Piñol.

The rice tariffication bill also removed the importation role of the National Food Authority. The NFA approved last year rice imports of 750,000 MT, auctioned off to private companies and to the governments of Thailand and Vietnam. This volume turned out to be the last of the NFA-supervised rice imports.

The last tranche of the imports — equivalent to 500,000 MT — is now 88.79% complete with 443,943.60 MT having arrived in the country as of Feb. 15. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio