TIME is needed to prepare rice farmers for the adjustment to heightened competition to be brought by rice tariffication, the head of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) said.
“Clearly, the liberalization process exposes long-term the industry to more international competition,” IRRI Director General Matthew Morell said on Wednesday during the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Department of Agriculture (DA) on scientific and technical collaboration in support of enhancing the Philippine rice industry’s competitiveness.
“Time is needed to adjust and some of the ability, from our perspective — the research and development work at IRRI and PhilRice — does need to be nurtured through enhanced education and training,” Mr. Morell added.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said that interventions to support farmers should reach them before the tariffication starts.
“If the interventions are ready right away and our farmers are given enough time to make use of those interventions to improve their productivity, yes our farmers can compete. But if we immediately implement liberalization even before the interventions can reach our farmers and even before they can improve their productivity, it would lead to the death of the rice industry,” Mr. Piñol said.
He did not elaborate on the required lead time to prepare farmers for competition.
Among the interventions contemplated under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) are equipment and mechanization, rice crop financing, and assistance with marketing and training.
“Right now, the farmers are complaining even without liberalized importation. There is speculation among the traders and they’re not buying palay right now, so the price of palay (unmilled rice) has dropped to P14 to P15 per kilo from a high of P25 last year,” Mr. Piñol said.
“The IRRI is both a source of pride for the Philippines and a reason for embarrassment. Why? We take pride in the fact that we host the research institution that has developed the world’s rice industry. But we’re embarrassed by the fact that even with the presence of IRRI in our midst and our own PhilRice, we have not yet attained that dream of rice self sufficiency. We can’t even produce enough rice for ourselves,” Mr. Piñol said.
Mr. Piñol added he has discussed with banks the possibility of providing more loan support to farmers. According to Mr. Piñol, the banks have insufficient guidance from the government in lending to the agricultural industry.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FFCCCII) said on Wednesday that the rice tariffication is a “much-needed” reform to curb inflation especially among those living in poverty.
“Rice is the staple food of our nation and it comprises almost 20% of the household expense of low-income households. We believe that by removing the import quotas on rice and replacing them with tariffs, the price of rice will significantly be lower as there will be competition and the lack of available cheap rice will no longer be an issue,” the FFCCCII said in a letter addressed to President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
“This measure is a much-needed reform that will help our countrymen,” the FFCIII stated in the letter. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio