THE Department of Agriculture (DA) said its goal is to improve the competitiveness of rice farmers and now views self-sufficiency as impossible because the government counts any imports, no matter how large, against the 100% goal.
Director for field operations Christopher V. Morales told reporters on Monday that President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s statement that the Philippines cannot achieve rice self-sufficiency in a speech last week was due to the outdated methods of computing for self-sufficiency.
“Whenever there’s an importation, no matter how many kilos that is, we will never reach 100% because there are imports in the computation,” he said.
“Definitely, we’ll never reach 100%. But if you ask us, the DA and the program, if we are targeting rice self-sufficiency, we’re not [focusing] on that. We’re more focused on the competitiveness of the farmers in terms of yield and cost.”
In a meeting last week, private sector group SRI Pilipinas told the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) that it should also consider other factors such as seed types and related technology in its reports to aid the DA in applying the appropriate interventions.
The DA, for its part, also said that Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) should be omitted from the computation as OFWs are not part of the population consuming rice domestically.
Last week, Mr. Duterte said that the country cannot achieve rice self-sufficiency because farmers are planting cash crops and farmland is shrinking. This is in conflict with Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol’s earlier statements claiming that the Philippines can reach 100% self-sufficiency as early as 2019.
The goal suggests output of 21.67 million metric tons (MT) of palay, or unmilled rice, to entirely meet domestic demand. At present, the Philippines is at around 95.01% rice self-sufficiency, PSA reported.
Mr. Morales said that the DA through its rice road map has set a target national yield of six metric tons per hectare by 2022.
“The main target of the DA is to improve productivity because if you improve productivity and you lower the costs, definitely you can increase the income of the farmers,” he added.
In the meantime, Mr. Morales said that importation remains unavoidable. A rice tariffication law is expected to be passed this year.
The law seeks to end the National Food Authority’s monopoly on rice importation by allowing private traders into the trade. It will also remove prescribed volumes for imported rice. Duties imposed on imported rice will help finance a proposed Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund.
Philippine Institute for Development Studies senior research fellow Roehlano M. Briones in a meeting on National Rice Security on Monday said that based on study, a maximum of 4 million MT of imported rice will enter the Philippines if “simulated under [a] completely free trade” scenario.
“All these procedures [for importation]… will take time,” he added.
“Let’s just see if domestic production will be enough to supply the domestic demand. If not, then there’s a need to import,” he added. — Anna Gabriela A. Mogato