Trouble in farmland

Farmers to fight rice policy shift; solons weigh in

A FARMERS’ group said it will resist and fight the government’s policy shift on rice-sufficiency even as lawmakers questioned the move, saying that would only encourage smuggling and further “escalate” the price of the staple grain.

“Don’t obey. Don’t listen to the dictate of a landlord president,” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas national president Rafael Mariano told the movement’s over 1.3 million members in 65 provincial chapters and 15 regional chapters nationwide.

Mariano said the policy shift from planting rice to planting high-value’ or non-staple agricultural crops would ‘kill’ rice self-sufficiency and would severely affect the farmers’ livelihood.

He added that the transition toward high-value agriculture is not viable since this would only lead to extreme rice importation and smuggling, escalation in the price of rice and exportation of alternative crops that would only benefit foreign capitalists.

On Tuesday, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said that the consensus among Cabinet members was to provide incentives to farmers to convince them to shift to plant agricultural crops other than rice.

Coloma, however, clarified that the government is not abandoning its rice self-sufficiency program.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, meanwhile, said that Malacanang remains supportive of its rice sufficiency program and even directed the Agriculture Department to continue to aim for rice sufficiency this year.

“We are still continuing the program for attaining self-sufficiency on rice. And if we have the means to attain this, we should not be dependent on other countries. The president and I have an understanding on this,” Alcala said.

The National Food Authority under the Department of Agriculture recently said that it missed its target of rice self-sufficiency when typhoon Santi slammed into Central Luzon and caused P2.94 billion worth of agricultural damage in 2013.

In Congress, Abakada party-list representative Jonathan dela Cruz said that the shift in government’s policy on rice was “an admission of failure in the agriculture sector despite all the funds and incentives” provided for the local farmers.

“It will surely mean more problems for our farmers and will make us even more vulnerable to the vagaries of the market,” he said.

Reps. Silvestre Bello III of 1-BAP party-list and Rodolfo Albano III of Isabela also said they would oppose the government’s shift in rice policy if it would lead to heavy rice importation.

“I believe our farmers are producing enough rice to meet the needs of our country. Our government should focus on providing our farmers sufficient subsidies, such as pre- and post- harvest facilities,” Bello said.

“Additionally, importation of rice promotes rice smuggling,” Bello added.

Reps. John Jorge Banal, Jr. of Quezon City and Gus Tambunting of Isabela, on the other hand, underscored the need for the government to expand the productivity of the entire agriculture sector.

“This does not mean that rice sufficiency is no longer a priority, only that we are expanding the focus of government to include other vital areas. I am sure that all concerns, particularly those of our farmers, will be carefully taken into consideration,” Banal said.

Tambunting, for his part, cast doubt that the government’s revised policy on rice would mean “the need to increase imports.”

“The DA [Department of Agriculture] has identified its rice self sufficiency goals, and I believe it intends to meet these goals,” Tambunting said.

In the Senate, Senator Sonny Angara expressed surprise over the sudden shift on rice sufficiency policy.

“From my understanding, we are aiming for rice sufficiency. In fact, there was a pronouncement that we are going to export. So I am surprised now that we are changing direction,” Angara said.

But Angara conceded that the shift in rice sufficiency was a choice other Asian countries have made.

“If you look at Malaysia, they have accepted that they are not rice sufficient and they can be efficient in other crops that’s why they choose to export certain crops,” said Angara.

He added that because of this, he said “they plant certain percentage and import a certain percentage.

Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Senator Nancy Binay both said that the government should prioritize the funding of new irrigation systems and the repair of existing ones.

Marcos said the government would not be able to meet its rice self-sufficiency target if it won’t be able to irrigate 1.4 million hectares of irrigable lands.

“Irrigation is the farmers’ lifeline especially for those who plant palay. If there’s no irrigation, harvest won’t increase, there’ll be no rise in production, and we won’t be able to reach our goal of becoming self-sufficient in rice,” Marcos added.

Binay, for her part, said that the country can achieve rice sufficiency “if we have proper irrigation and assistance when it comes to farm implements.”

During a hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Public Works on Tuesday, National Irrigation Administration manager for operation Efren Roqueza bared that the country has 3.1 million hectares of irrigable landholdings, but so far, only 1.7 million hectares had been irrigated.

He also said irrigation systems and infrastructure in 500,000 hectares of the 1.7 million-hectare irrigated landholdings needed rehabilitation.

Senator Loren Legarda, meanwhile, said there was nothing wrong in planting other crops, even as Senator Grace Poe said it is time that Filipinos engage in ‘corporate farming.’

“It’s good to produce other crops which are attuned to our environment, climate and equally nutritious for our people,” Legarda said.

She added that while the government should try to curb smuggling, ‘the planting of alternative crops is something to be done to augment the nutritional needs of our people.”

Poe, meanwhile, said the rice importation fiasco has highlighted the need to review government policy on food security and seek creative means to reinvigorate the agricultural sector.

Thus, she cited the need for corporate farming programs that intend to attract more private engagement in the agricultural sector.

“This would have a significant impact on ensuring a more stable rice and corn supply as well as making rice and corn process more predictable,” said Poe.

Poe said that a suitable farming program that will boost public-private partnerships will boost the country’s agricultural sector productivity.

To this end, Poe filed Senate Bill 2089, or An Act Promoting Corporate Farming and Providing Incentives for its Effective Implementation, to ensure a more stable food supply.

“We have to take concrete steps to fully address food security and ensure adequate nutrition for our citizens,” said Poe.

SB 2089 seeks to develop a suitable corporate farming program that will boost public-private partnerships to enhance productivity in the agriculture sector. With Ana Leah Estrada, Macon Ramos-Araneta and Rio N. Araja




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