The urgent necessity to review and amend the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) is now a matter of national security.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) has confirmed that local rice production has dropped drastically bringing down the Philippine Rice Self-Sufficiency Ration (SSR) from 86.2% in 2018 when the country produced 19.04-million metric tons to only 79.8% last year.
Those who raise eyebrows and ask why I have maintained my advocacy for the review of the RTL even after I have left the Department of Agriculture, I have two answers:
1. I am a farmer and so are the members of my family;
2. Rice Production is one of the major industries in Mindanao and its collapse will affect Mindanao’s economy.
This report on the drastic fall in the country’s rice production is tragic because even without the RTL, we were able to increase the country’s rice production from 17.6-million metric tons in 2016 to a historic level on the first year of the Duterte Presidency.
The highest rice harvest of the country in history was achieved in 2017 when the Palay output was 19.28-million metric tons because of favorable climate, increase in the use of hybrid seeds and profitable price for farmers.
In 2018, even with over 20 typhoons which affected the production areas in Luzon, the country posted a 19.04-million metric ton harvest.
At that time, that farm gate prices reached P20 per kilo compared to only P11 to P14 per kilo now.
The Department of Agriculture has confirmed that at least 50,000 hectares of rice farms are abandoned and farmers shifted to other crops last year because of low prices.
This is what we feared would happen with the unimpeded rice importation.
The danger that we face if the Rice Tariffication Law is not reviewed and amended is the continuous reduction of the rice farming areas.
In one town here in North Cotabato, Tulunan, 70% of the rice farming areas have been converted to banana farms and unless the RTL is corrected and the farmers are protected from the unimpeded importation of rice, the trend will continue.
The grim scenario here is that when farmers abandon the planting of our staple food, the country will be totally dependent on imported rice from Vietnam and Thailand.
As I have previously stated, there are three dangers that we must contend with:
1. Population Growth: Vietnam, Thailand and other rice growing countries also have growing population. Ten or 20 years from now, Vietnam will not be able to export the same volume of rice that they are shipping out right. By that same time, our rice consumption would have also increased due to population growth;
2. Climate Change: La Niña, El Niño, floods and droughts are realities that we have to face. What if the rice exporting countries are hit by these natural calamities at the same time? Even if, assuming that our people have the buying power, where will we buy our rice?
3. Geo-Political Issues: It is public knowledge that while China claims the vast body of waters between us and Vietnam variably named South China Sea or West Philippine Sea, the United States of America and other world superpowers will never allow that to happen. The moment a conflict or war breaks out, that major sea lane will be choked and the food supply chain will be disrupted.
Those who say that the Philippines could not be rice sufficient because we do not have the area are sadly missing two things:
1. Our average national production now is only 4-metric tons per hectare but farmers who use hybrid seeds supported by sufficient irrigation water and fertilization, harvest as much as 12 to 14 metric tons per hectare;
2. Mindanao, which has a more favorable climate than the rest of the country for rice farming, has vast unutilized areas. Another 1-million hectares of fully irrigated farms producing 6-metric tons per harvest per hectare means an additional 12-million metric tons of un-milled rice or at least 7-million metric tons of rice, well beyond our shortfall of only 2-million metric tons.
Our only problem in achieving rice sufficiency is the penchant of our economists and some legislators to present themselves as agriculture experts who should decide the direction, fate and destiny of Philippine Agriculture.
The farmers know best. Just support them with a fair price for their produce and the basic things they need to produce more – high-yielding seeds, irrigation, fertilization and post-harvest facilities.
This is the umpteenth time I am repeating this story.
The Monster that is the RTL has reared its ugly head and our farmers are crying for help.
We have to slay the monster now.
Manny Piñol was the first secretary of agriculture under President Duterte. He now serves as chairman of the Mindanao Development Authority.