Philippines can meet own rice demand, says crop expert
MANILA, Philippines – While there are fears that some farmers may decide to stop planting rice, an expert believes the Philippines can achieve full rice self-sufficiency.
Teodoro Mendoza, a former trustee of the Philippine Rice Research Institute, said in a roundtable discussion on Wednesday, February 27, that "the technology is already there."
"So, us in the R&D (research and development)…if you ask us, we can be a rice-growing country. Why? The technology is already there. The hybrid and inbred seeds are already there and they have high yields," he said.
If farmers were to plant on favorable areas measuring 1.5 million hectares (ha) and produce an average of 7.5 tons per hectare during the dry season, then cover 2.6 million ha and produce an average yield of 4.5 tons during the wet season, it would translate to 23.4 million metric (MT) tons in a year.
Mendoza noted that this would be more than enough to cover the Philippines' rice demands. The average daily domestic consumption of rice in the country is around 32,000 MT.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol earlier told reporters that the government will have to settle for a 93% rice self-sufficiency rate to accommodate the entry of imported rice, going against the Duterte administration's earlier promise.
Mendoza, also a retired professor from the Institute of Crop Science at the College of Agriculture and Food Science in the University of the Philippines Los Baños, said it is difficult to estimate by how much the self-sufficiency rate would drop, if indeed it does.
"It's hard to guesstimate. [Right] now that we have support, what we have reached is 93% [of rice self-sufficiency, but] Secretary Piñol said that it's foolishness to talk about rice self-sufficiency," Mendoza added.
Last February 14, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the rice tariffication law or Republic Act No. 11203, lifting the decades-long quantitative restriction (QR) on rice imports and liberalizing the rice trade. (READ: Business as usual for rice industry after Duterte signs rice tariffication law)
The law also removed the National Food Authority's regulatory powers, limiting its functions to storing buffer stocks and providing rice during times of calamity.
The QR is a safeguard, non-tariff measure imposed by any World Trade Organization (WTO) member which restricts the importation of sensitive goods.
In exchange for maintaining the QR, the Philippines had raised the minimum access volume (MAV) – or the amount of rice which can enter the country – to 805,200 MT at an in-quota rate of 35%.
Should rice imports go above the MAV, the in-quota tariff rate for most-favored nations would increase to 40%.
With the passage of the rice tariffication law, the MAV will revert to its 2012 level of 350,000 MT.
Aside from the agreement with the WTO, the Philippines has another agreement to import rice from its traditional partners, Vietnam and Thailand.
During the roundtable discussion, IBON Foundation executive director Jose Enrique Africa noted that these two countries are able to export rice because of government support to farmers.
Mendoza: "Mawawalan ng gana ang mga farmers dahil sa taas ng production [costs]... What will happen if bababa ang production and we have to import from 2 MMT to 3 MMT. This already happened in 2008 when we tried to import 2.25 MMT." | @rapplerdotcom— Anna Mogato (@AGAMogato) February 27, 2019
Mendoza warned, however, that production for farmers is "not only technical" since there is "a big perception factor."
"If you perceive that you won't profit, you won't invest too much. So the tendency [for the farmers] is not to plant at all," he explained.
With the start of the harvest season coming, the P15 to P17 per kilogram (kg) price of palay may even go down to P12 per kg, meaning more losses for farmers.
This is aside from threats posed by climate change and the looming El Niño which may affect the production of crops.
Rice stakeholders warned that if there are shortages in rice stocks in other countries, it would further raise the global price of rice, making it harder to procure.
Only around 6% of rice are available for trading in the world market, or around 10 million MT. – Rappler.com