By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter
President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Wednesday, June 13, said he does not believe the country can attain its goal of self-sufficiency in rice production, noting that most lands in Mindanao, which is known to be the country’s food basket, have been “eaten up by cash crops.”
“With the advent of the coming of the cash crops instead of the food crops, kinukulang na tayo ngayon ng lupa (we are losing farm lands),” the President said in his speech at the Palace on Wednesday afternoon after witnessing the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MoA) between the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) and state and local universities and colleges for the implementation of the Free Higher Education Law.
He added: “Do we have the resources to answer for the food of the Filipino? Kasi sa (It is because in) Mindanao, the choice lands there were eaten up by the cash crop guys. Iyong (The) food crops, wala na masyado (nothing much). And if you’d ask me, in the next how many years, we will just have to import rice. I do not believe that we can be rice-sufficient.”
He likewise said he does not believe in Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol’s statement that the country’s rice-self-sufficiency target may be achieved by “year-end.”
Yung sinabi ni Piñol na at the year-end. Istorya man lang ‘yon,” he said. ([Mr.] Piñol said that by year-end…That was just a bluff.)
In a BusinessWorld‘s report in August last year, Mr. Piñol was quoted as saying, “If we are able to achieve that, the country will have enough rice supply to fill the needs of the Filipino people and we will no longer be dependent on imported rice as early as 2019 or 2020 at the latest.”
“To achieve rice self-sufficiency, the agency will have to meet full-year production of some 21.67 million metric tons of unhusked rice, or palay,” the report also said.
Also in his speech, the President recalled “the last ruckus” in the National Food Authority (NFA).
“I had to cut some powers of Cabinet members for just being too shortsighted or jumping into others’ territory. I said, ‘Why can’t you make the buffer stock of rice reach the ceiling? Our buffer stock was only good for three to four days. You must be crazy’,” he said.
Last April, Mr. Duterte had ordered to return the supervision of the NFA back to the DA. Following the re-oganization, Mr. Piñol took over as chairman of the NFA council, which was formerly headed by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio B. Evasco, Jr.