Tuesday Aug, 20 2019 02:20:35 AM

Pinol on Rice Tarificationand We will survive, we will prevail

AGRICULTURE • 14:30 PM Fri Feb 22, 2019
Manny Piñol
Sec. Amnny PInol meets Wednesday all heads of offices of the DA involved in the rice program. (DA-AFID Photo)

The signing into law of the Rice Liberalisation and Tariffication Measure which would open the Philippine market to imported rice has resulted in shock waves now being felt the rice industry stakeholders.Amid the fear and uncertainties, I would like to clarify the following issuesand1. The Rice Tariffication Measure resulting from the lifting of the Quantitative Restriction (QR) on the volume of imported rice is a commitment made by the Philippines when it signed up with the World Trade Organisation over two decades ago.The Philippines was able to delay the implementation of the lifting of import restrictions but there was simply no backing off from that commitment.It is not a measure that was just thought of last year and President Rody Duterte merely implemented the Agreement, otherwise the Philippines could face legal actions from its trading partners.The rice industry stakeholders have accepted this and were prepared for the effects of the lifting of the QR.2. The Rice Liberalisation, however, is a totally different issue and was pushed by the Economic Managers and several Senators who said that by totally deregulating the rice industry, consumers would enjoy lower priced rice.In fact, the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) said the price of rice would go down by as much as P7 per kilo.The Rice Liberalization aspect of the new law included stripping the National Food Authority of its regulatory powers.So, under this law, one does not need to get an import permit from the NFA to be able to bring in rice from Vietnam or other countries and anybody could engage in rice trading freely without having to be concerned about regulations and licenses.This measure was opposed by the Rice Industry stakeholders because of fears that it could lead to a chaotic rice trading.I shared the same view and expressed my opposition to this measure both publicly and officially in position papers submitted by the DA.We were overruled by the Economic Managers. The Senate abandoned the version of the Lower House on Rice Tariffication and embraced an all-encompassing Rice Liberalisation version.I will be lying if I say that I feel comfortable with the measure. The truth is just like the rice farmers, I have my misgiving and fears.But now that the measure has been signed into law, both I and the DA as part of the instrumentalities of government must do its part to ensure that it is implemented well and loopholes plugged.I have to throw my fears and misgivings to the backseat and perform my duty as Secretary of Agriculture to ensure that the law is implemented while the rice farming sector is also protected.On Wednesday, I summoned all the Regional Directors, the regional rice program coordinators, the National Food Authority, the PhilMech, PhilRice, Agricultural Training Institute, Bureau of Plant Industry and other agencies to lay down our strategies to cushion the adverse effect of the massive inflow of cheap imported rice on our rice farmers.Among the measures to be implemented areand1. Strengthen support to the rice farmers through free seeds, fertilisers, solar irrigation, equipment and credit so that they will be able to increase their production by at least 2 metric tons per hectare per harvest. This is expected to cushion the effect of low buying price expected at a range of P16 to P18 per kilo.2. Intensify the NFA Procurement Program which buys clean and dry palay at P17 per kilo plus a P3.70 additional incentive per kilo. The DA and NFA will also offer incentives like the PLEA loaning program, fertiliser and equipment to those who will sell their produce to the NFA.3. Encourage and support rice farmers to use rice seed varieties with better eating quality so that their produce would fetch a better price. Examples of these varieties are RC 160, RC 218 and RC 300 which are being bought by rice millers and traders at P22 to P25 per kilo. By doing this, locally produced rice will target a niche market of consumers who prefer better tasting and good eating quality rice over cheap imported rice.One feature of the Rice Liberalisation Law that is not often mentioned is the provision that allows the export of local rice without restrictions.This may sound ridiculous now but Filipino farmers could actually increase the volume of exports of organic rice, heirloom rice and upland fancy rice which command a higher price in foreign markets.These are some of the measures that the DA will be taking to cushion the effect of the Rice Trade Liberalisation on Filipino rice farmers.Lastly, let me state that in spite of the challenges that the Rice Industry is facing now, Rice Farming will continue and must be pursued.The Philippine population is growing at a rate of 1.7% while our rice-exporting neighbours also have increasing population.Five to 10 years from now, there will not be enough rice for everybody.If we abandon rice farming now, we will be guilty of abandoning our responsibility to ensure food security for the next generation.Admittedly, the challenges are difficult but with God's grace, we will survive and prevail.Thank you.


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