THE rice industry increased its productivity during the pandemic, according to non-government organization Action for Economic Reforms (AER).

In its recent report, “The Rice Industry under the COVID Weather,” AER described the performance of the rice industry during the first and second quarters as “tempered growth.”

“Many industries have been negatively affected by the global health crisis but the rice industry has proven to be somewhat resilient,” AER said.

Citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, AER said production of palay, or unmilled rice, rose 7.1% to 4.13 million metric tons (MT) during the second quarter, the height of COVID-related quarantine measures.

AER added that rice production and yields rose even after less land was planted to the staple.

“The average productivity of 4.32 MT per hectare represents a 2.5% increase over the same period of the previous year. However, this is still a long way from the target of at least six MT per hectare,” AER said.

Meanwhile, AER said that good weather and better government support for the sector were behind the industry’s positive performance, but added that not all rice farmers have received aid.

“Some farmers who have yet to receive government support or have received support but after much delay, insist that this positive performance of the rice sector is simply due to good weather,” AER said.

“They concede that there was indeed growth, but negative sentiment prevails among those adversely affected by declining farmgate prices,” it added.

AER said it expects that interventions to resolve problems encountered by domestic producers will be implemented over the short and medium terms such as increased palay procurement by the National Food Authority and local government units, and direct cash transfers to small rice farmers.

“Lowered costs and improved productivity mean more competitive local farmers, which should redound to increased incomes. This can be achieved by diligently and expediently implementing the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF). Further, it must be complemented by other non-RCEF agriculture support interventions and institutional reform measures,” AER said.

It said cutting production costs and increasing productivity are the long-term goal. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave