BY PET MELLIZA/ THE BEEKEEPER
The Philippines can be self-sufficient in rice even this year — officials and militant farmers hint. All that is needed is reduce importation and shoot down smuggling.
Agriculture secretary Proceso Alcala sees that for real, thus his petition to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2011 to extend the “quantitative restriction” (QR) on rice imports. Backing him is Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) general secretary Danilo Ramos who fumes at the Obama administration for blocking that move.
The United States under Pres. Barack Obama opposes the Philippine request. China supports the country’s WTO petition despite the tension on the Spratleys.
The WTO has granted the Philippines minimum access volume (MAV) of 350,000 metric tons (MT) for rice importation but the Macapagal-Arroyo administration opened the floodgates to foreign rice since 2001, capping that in 2010 with a deluge 2.45 million metric tons that hurt Filipino farmers.
Reducing rice import to 350,000 MT will boost local farmers, create jobs and brisker economic activities, says Elias Sandig, assistant provincial agriculturist of Iloilo.
Alcala echoes KMP’s Danilo Ramos who blames rice shortfall on imports and rallies support for the extension of the QR that expires on June 30, 2012.
The WTO, yet to rule on the petition, issued a “waiver” on the expiry of the QR thus, allowing the country to extend the QR on rice until June 30, 2017.
At the cable TV talk show “Kape kag Isyu”, hosted by Peter Jimenea and yours truly, two government specialists argue that self-sufficiency is attainable. They blame imports, let alone, smuggling by highly-connected traders, for undermining domestic production.
One resource, Edgar Baylon, “seed coordinator” of the DA in Western Visayas, says that aside from raising output, Filipinos can attain self-sufficiency by adopting “alternative” staple foods like other Asians who, aside from rice, thrive on root crops, beans, squash and corn, among others.
“Government eyes 2013 for full self-sufficiency in rice but the dry spell in the first quarter delayed that,” explains Baylon whose job includes propagation of seeds of alternative staples in W. Visayas (Iloilo, Capiz, Antique and Aklan on Panay Island, Guimaras Island province, and Negros Occidental on Negros Island).
Baylon posits the scenario where Filipinos return to tradition when breakfast was a meal of steamed camote or sab-a bananas. “With that, we address diabetes and rice sufficiency,” he says. “ That translates to 33% rice saved, and healthier Filipinos.”
Well-milled rice is blamed for prevalence of diabetes, a top killer in the Philippines. Root crops and sab-a pack protein, energy and other nutrients that fight cancer, diabetes, hypertension and heart ailments.
Sandig, on the other hand, says Iloilo Province promotes organic black and red rice farming also to increase Iloilo’s surplus and ensure good health. Iloilo, 3rd rice producer in the country, sells 40% of its rice to other provinces.
“Per capita rice consumption in the Philippines is 120 kilos per year; Ilonggos eat more, at 135 kilos, that’s why we have higher incidence of diabetes than other provinces,” explains Sandig.
If Ilonggos shifted to black or red rice, per capita consumption will go down to 90 kilos. Black and red rice contain more protein, fibers, and nutrients that give eaters sense of fullness for less intake, adds Sandig.
Iloilo province’s organic black and red rice program, begun in 2010, continues to attract farmers because it is more profitable. It yields average of four MT per hectare, higher than the usual produce of white rice. Sandig cites one in Zarraga town, 10 kilometers north of Iloilo City, who hit six MTs that “enabled him to build a concrete house”.