Chronology of `Blusters` over Rice

Rice is the country's premier political crop. And because of this fact, debates have raged over the imperative--or folly--to be self-sufficient. In his essay, Resurgent contributor Edmundo Cejar traces how national agriculture officials have publicly regarded the matter, and juxtaposes their positions vis-a-vis the other voices of modernizing Philippine agriculture.

In the corporate world, one sets an achievable, if challenging, goal only after carefully studying all the facilitating as well as the constraining factors, and he is confident the odds are in his favor. He does not just wave a magic wand and promises to do in two years what scores of others have not accomplished in 50 years. That is merely bluster and bravado of a small-town trapo on the campaign trail.

Regional Directors from the Department of Agriculture can now breathe easy. It looks like they are no longer in danger of finding themselves panhandling on the streets after the top honcho himself moved the deadline for rice sufficiency from 2018 to 2020. In business, if one moves his pieces that far down the road, one gets the boot. Government is a funny place. After admitting that one can’t achieve his self-made goals, one has the temerity to ask for more moolah! Like throwing a zillion more pesos down the drain.

A true leader is expected to adapt, instead of digging in his heels, when faced with a preponderance of expert opinion and hard facts to the contrary. No one has a monopoly of brilliant ideas.

Please read on why rice sufficiency is a search for fool’s gold:

Philippine Star, July 2, 2016

“It’s no longer a choice. It has become a must to attain rice and food sufficiency. Over the next six years, we will strive very hard to produce more food for the people,” Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said.

……

Piñol warned that DA regional directors would be removed from office if they fail to achieve rice sufficiency by 2018.

“I will give them all the support they need including irrigation, seeds, fertilizers and farm inputs. But if after two years and nothing happens, I will remove them,” he said.

Manila Bulletin, Nov 29, 2016

The government is focusing on four fundamental aspects to achieve rice sufficiency in the next two to three years, according to Piñol.

“I am very confident that within the next two to three years, we will be able to hit rice sufficiency.

Piñol said by producing quality seeds, supporting fertilization, enhancing irrigation, and fostering farm mechanization, the country will be able to achieve rice sufficiency.

Philippine Star, March 16, 2017

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has once again pushed back its rice self-sufficiency goal by another year to 2020 due to lack of available budget and as it buys more time to implement strategies to improve the sector.

“We have to make adjustments due to non-availability of funds. I’m still struggling,” Piñol told reporters in a chance interview.

While he moved his target, Pinol is banking on strategies to achieve the goal including promotion of hybrid seeds, access to credit and loans, access to right marketing, and provision of post-harvest facilities.

Business World, August 3, 2017

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia told BusinessWorld at a briefing last week that it was necessary to avoid the previous administration’s “obsession” with rice production during which inflation “shot up,” fueled by high rice prices.

“That has been the focus before. Now, our policy thrust is trying to get the higher value crops market,” Mr. Pernia said in a roundtable meeting, citing crops such as coffee, banana, pineapple and cacao.

Asked to respond, Mr. Piñol said Wednesday in a phone interview: “I respect his opinion but we have already identified the priorities of the Department of Agriculture.”

………

He said crop diversification runs the risk of diverting the government from its goal of ensuring the supply of agricultural commodities Filipinos depend on.

“To diversify is to lose our focus on the basic commodities needed by consumers,” Piñol said.

Rice self-sufficiency: A question of geography?

IRRI Article (by David Dawe, FAO)

“Thus, in terms of achieving rice self-sufficiency, island countries have a natural disadvantage. Less of their land is suited to growing rice. As a result, they cannot compete at the margin with the mainland rice exporters. On the best land, operating with the best technology, farmers in different countries are similar. But, the importing countries simply have less of that land than do the exporting countries.

………

Should the rice-importing countries try to mimic the exporting countries and increase the proportion of cropped area devoted to rice? The problem with such a strategy is that there is a very good reason why fewer farmers grow rice in the importing countries, namely, other crops are more profitable. Forcing farmers to grow rice will reduce their income, which will work against household food security.”

IRRI study on Rice

“But, surprisingly, the reason for higher per capita production in the exporters is not higher yield. In fact, the importing countries have higher overall yield than do the exporting countries, because a higher percentage of rice land is irrigated in the importing countries,” IRRI said.

“Rather, the exporting countries have much more rice area per person,” it said.

In theory, the reasons why the exporting countries might have more rice area per person could be that their land is more suited to growing rice (as opposed to other crops), cropping intensity (the number of crops planted per unit of agricultural area) is greater, more land is used for agriculture, or more land is available per person (low population density).

A common feature of the five rice-exporting countries is that they are all on the Southeast Asian mainland, while the importing countries are islands or peninsulas. The countries on the mainland have dominant river deltas that provide ample water and flat lands, which make it easier to control the water. Such an environment is suitable for cultivating rice.”

(Mr. Cejar is a businessman-farmer based in Sarangani Province.)

-Photo courtesy of Manila Bulletin