By José Abeto Zaide
Before President Rodrigo R. Duterte gives the game away by granting the private sector authority to import rice to cover our shortfall, like a broken record, Oscar. Violago argues that the National Food Authority should retain the exclusive authority to import rice on G-t-G basis.
BACKGROUND. Violago was a 29-year-old Boy Wonder in 1973 when, mirabile dictu, he was able to source for NFA 100,000 metric tons of Chinese rice when none seemed available in the world market. When rice hoarders and price manipulators saw Chinese rice being unloaded at the pier, they panicked and released their hoarded stocks, averting what could have been a calamitous artificial shortage.
In his time, the then no-nonsense NFA chairman Jess Tanchangco was able to supply demand, stabilized prices by storing both locally produced and imported rice in 400 silos throughout the country, and generated P200 billion in NFA coffers. In contrast, today NFA owes P200 billion.
THE IRONY OF IRRI. There can be no worse commentary than the fact that the International Rice Research Institute is in Los Baños, but the Philippines continues to be a major importer of rice from Thailand, Vietnam, and our neighbors.
The Filipino farmer is not lacking in imagination or industry. But we must level the playing field. The Mekong River flows through six countries and irrigates rice paddies in China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Our neighbors have tapped this rich source of water and consequently their farmers have multiple yields.
YES, WE CAN, IF…!
- NFA retains exclusive authority to import rice. Importation should be done well ahead of time and stored in its 400 silos to prevent hoarders from playing the market scare.
2.We do not (repeat, NOT) release a single grain of rice in the market during harvest season and maybe a month or two months beyond the season depending on the prevailing price of rice in the market.
3.We must be prepared to flood the market , if necessary, to stabilize the price of rice to be reasonable and fair to our consumers.
- Strategically, we should locate rice stocks in the urban centers (Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao, Legazpi, Naga, etc.).
- National Irrigation Administration (NIA) should invest in building more high dams and irrigation canals throughout the Philippines: Rice has insatiable thirst. All the fertilizer and the technology will come to naught if the essential ingredient, water, is absent. NIA should be made responsible:
- To store waters and prevent flooding during heavy rains, and
- To release water for irrigation to our farmers during the dry season.
This would have dual benefits of preventing floods and damage to crops and ensure that the farmers are able to have at least twice a year yields for their ricelands.
PROVEN. Thanks to the political will of former President Fidel V. Ramos, the Casecnan Dam was built and Nueva Ecija became the only all-year–round green province in the country, with farmers receiving twice, thrice and some even four-fold yield. We should replicate many more Casecnan dams throughout the country.
Violago is skeptical of the new NFA practice of allowing “farmers’ cooperatives” and private sector to import rice. Government is mandated to provide rice to the greatest number at least cost; in contrast, the private sector, by definition, is there to maximize profit margin.
POSTSCRIPT. We may not have the funds to provide fertilizer or farm-to-market roads to our farmers. But for those within reach, Senator Ralph Recto champions waiving the bill for irrigation waters. He calls irrigation waters the low-hanging fruit and anti-poverty tool for agriculture, which absorbs 27 percent of jobs and home to 40 percent of the poor.
What better way to fight poverty in the countryside. The P1.5-billion bill for irrigation waters would be a sneeze compared to the P150 billion requested for additional capitalization of the Central Bank. To quote Senator Recto, if banks are too big to fail, why would irrigation is too big to fund?
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