DA’s Piñol warns against heavy dependence on rice imports

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NFA rice imports
A worker looks up at the batch of imported Vietnamese rice being unloaded at a port in Manila on August 18, 2014. -- REUTERS

AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol warned against heavy reliance on imported rice amid plans to liberalize imports and doubled down on his earlier support for rice self-sufficiency.

“It is as certain that 10 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 in a social media post on Thursday.

“The point I am raising here, which I have raised in many occasions in the past, is: Yes, let us allow imported rice to come in to fill up the supply shortfall. But the policy to just rely on imported rice and ask our rice farmers to diversify to other crops is a death trap. This is a shortsighted view which will kill the rice industry and drive away farmers from the rice fields,” Mr. Piñol added.

Mr. Piñol said El Niño can hit any country without warning, and every country needs to be prepared.

“What if Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia suffer from harvest losses because of climatic disruptions including El Niño?” Mr. Piñol said.

“Even if we have the money to buy, there will be no available rice supply on the world market and assuming the availability of supply, can we outbid China?” Mr. Piñol added.

He called proposals to rely on imported rice as a “Short-sighted view which will kill the rice industry… 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,” Mr. Piñol said.

University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) Center for Food and Agribusiness Executive Director Rolando T. Dy said that even with the removal of quantitative restrictions (QR) in the country in line with the implementation of the upcoming rice tariffication law, farmers will continue to plant rice.

“Most rice farmers will continue to plant rice under with income support. Some will eventually diversify,” Mr. Dy said in a mobile message.

“Rice farmers comprise 30% of the total rural folk. We have coconut, fisherfolk, upland farmers. They too need poverty alleviation attention. Coconut farmers and fisherfolk have been neglected for decades,” Mr. Dy added. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio