By Ellson Quismorio
Suicidal, ill-advised, and a betrayal to Filipino farmers.
That’s how Butil Party-list Rep. Cecilia Chavez sees the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) apparent abandonment of the country’s longtime dream of rice self-sufficiency in favor of rice import dependence.
“Rice self-sufficiency is the anchor of the national food security policy. It is perfectly achievable with adequate support from government and a public-private backed credit program. It will serve as the fortress of protection just in case something goes awry in the global rice production environment,” Chavez said in a statement Thursday.
“To abandon the pursuit of self-sufficiency is suicidal, ill-advised and the equivalent of betraying our rice farmers,” reckoned the lady lawmaker.
The DA is headed by Secretary Manny Piñol, who recently led the presentation to the House of Representatives the agency’s proposed budget under the 2019 National Expenditure Program (NEP).
According to Chavez, DA’s policy declaration would lead to the celebration not of Filipino farmers but those from Thailand and Vietnam, which are the among the top five rice exporters in the world.
“I have this fear that there is rejoicing in the rice production centers of Thailand and Vietnam after hearing the policy declaration from the DA, with support and prodding from the economic managers,” she said.
During the budget hearing of the DA last week, Piñol admitted to congressmen that they weren’t really aiming for 100 percent rice self-sufficiency.
“Our rice sufficiency target is only 95 to 96 percent of the total rice requirement. Why only that? Because we allow imported rice to come in. It’s a very delicate balance actually,” Piñol said.
“Ang problema natin dyan (The problem there is), the Philippines right now if ever we achieve surplus rice production, we could not possibly compete with Vietnam or Thailand in exporting our rice because our rice is more expensive. So right now we are maintaining a delicate balance, acceptable to us is about 95 to 96 percent. Kasi may commitment tayo sa importation ng bigas eh (Because we have a commitment on rice importation),” added the DA boss.
Rice is the staple grain of the Philippines, a country of over 100 million people.
Chavez said the prioritization of rice importation on the part of the DA is “unfathomable.”“I cannot fathom this new policy thrust of abandoning agriculture in favor of sectors less important to the survival and security of the country,” she said.
“Even with the single-digit contribution of the agriculture sector to GDP (gross domestic product), close to 30 percent of the work force are still in agricultural sector. The dream of inclusive growth cannot take place without lifting the sector along with the 30 percent of the entire Filipino workforce,” she pointed out.
Chavez lamented that farmers and fisherfolk posted the highest incidences of poverty in 2015. “That is true today,” she said.