[Statement] Rice liberalization is a clear abandonment of the local rice farmers and industry -PMCJ

STATEMENT ON THE PASSAGE OF RICE TARIFFICATION ACT

The Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ) calls on the government to institute more safeguards and protection for rice farmers and the rice industry now that the rice tariffication act has been signed into law.

On February 14, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law Republic Act No. 11203, also known as the Rice Tariffication Act, which will lift the quantitative restrictions on rice imports and allow the private sector to import ‘unlimited’ rice with much ease as long as it pays the tariff set by the law. Duterte and his economic managers asserted that it would address the urgent need to improve the availability and affordability of rice in the country.

Rice liberalization is a clear abandonment of the local rice farmers and industry

Ever since the Philippines liberalized agriculture, many of its agricultural products failed to compete with the cheaper counterparts of the Southeast Asian countries. The price of the agricultural product has always been the determinant in its viability in the market as shown by the cheaper onions and garlic imports vs. the expensive locally produced ones. Eventually, the number of Filipino farmers producing onions and garlic dwindle and lands devoted to producing these products have been converted for other use. This has been the hard lesson the Philippines got from agricultural liberalization, and fears that this is happening again to rice, the most basic staple of Filipinos.

With the flooding of cheaper imported rice in the local market, how can the local rice farmers compete with their foreign counterparts? Farmers will be forced to sell off their harvest to a much lower price amidst the increasing local cost of production. Although the law provides that collected tariffs will be allocated to farm mechanization, seed development, credit assistance, and training services to help farmers adjust, it will still take time for every farmer to actually benefit from it. And this is even under the assumption that the law will successfully be implemented. Farmers would still have to endure the sudden loss of income they will incur upon full implementation of the rice tariffication act, trapping them further in the cycle of poverty.

Given their poor economic conditions, compounded with the lack of implementation for policies protecting small-scale farmers, incomplete implementation of agrarian reform, degradation of watersheds and forests for irrigation, and now opening up the rice industry to other players, the number of farmers involved in rice farming will most likely shrink as well as the agricultural lands devoted to it. Shift to other profitable commodities is expected, or worse the conversion of rice lands to non-agricultural uses.

On the other hand, there is no guarantee that rice prices will lower and stabilize despite the influx of cheaper imported rice. With the new law, the private sector now holds the power to control and dictate market prices. The National Food Authority, which had the previous mandate of stabilizing prices, is now merely tasked of maintaining sufficient rice buffer stock intended for calamities and emergencies. This is a double whammy for the poor farmers being both producers and consumers of rice.

Rice liberalization is not the key to food security, but self-sufficiency

Rice liberalization is a myopic move from the government as it fails to recognize the current global climate crisis. The world, as it is, already goes through the dramatic consequences of climate change on food production. And this is expected to get worse in 12 years time, according to IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degree Celsius, if no unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society are done. By 2030, there will be a drastic decline in agricultural yields including rice, corn, and wheat. Rice yields reduction will reach up to 10% for every 1 degree Celsius increase in temperature, or even higher for climate vulnerable countries such as those in Asia.

Vietnam and Thailand, the world’s largest rice exporters and the main sources of imported rice in the Philippines, will soon not be able to export the same volume of rice as they do now because of the worsening climate change impacts to their agriculture sector. Given this situation, the Philippines will face another rice crisis in a few years if its rice industry will remain import-dependent.

Safeguarding food security does not mean sustaining the country’s food supply through whatever means, in this case, importation. It means protecting the local production and transforming it to an adaptive, resilient, and self-sufficient industry that can cater to the local demands for food. At the same time, it means putting a premium on the rights and well-being of local food producers and building their capacity to sustain the local food demands. A country with more than enough domestic food supply is in a better position to face the impending food crisis due to climate change than a country with an import-dependent food system.

In the event of signing the Rice Tariffication Act into law, PMCJ calls on the government to expand and develop local rice production by ensuring that agricultural services, regulation of the cost of production and access to low-interest credit and grants are available to small rice farmers. Protection and expansion of rice farms and small farmers is the key to climate impacts on rice and food production. Conservation of watersheds and forests for irrigation and water supply is critical to sustaining agricultural productivity, as well as complying with our mitigation targets. Further, it calls on the government to stop the tide of liberalization of agriculture and institute reforms and policy to enhance and develop local agricultural production devoted to food consumption of the 100 million Filipinos.

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