Days before President Rodrigo Duterte’s first year in office, farmers and consumer advocates from Bantay Bigas, an alliance monitoring rice prices, says the government fell short in its mandate and responsibility to ensure affordable and safe rice for consumers.
“We are alarmed with the reported existence of fake or plastic rice in the market. The government should probe thoroughly on this. Whether fake news or not, the mere issue of fake rice allegedly penetrating our local market reflects the government’s inability to address the main concerns of the rice industry, rice farmers and consumers,” said Zenaida Soriano, convenor of Bantay Bigas. Fake rice in a country with three million rice farmers is simply unacceptable.”
“Last year, President Duterte said he wants to achieve rice self-sufficiency. But the Department of Agriculture and the National Food Authority (NFA) did not make any drastic reforms to genuinely develop the domestic rice industry and do away with the long-time government policy of rice importation. The fundamental requisites for the attainment of rice self-sufficiency and food security were not fulfilled, nor seriously addressed by the Duterte government,” the Bantay Bigas convenor said.
Among the issues that were not resolved by the government during the past year include the following: 1) Absence of a genuine land reform program and continuing landlessness of rice farmers; 2) Lacking government support and subsidy for rice farmers; 3) Rising cost of rice; 4) Rice importation that affect local rice producers and 5) Low government procurement and low-buying price of locally-produced rice. “It’s only a month before the State of the Nation Address. We will measure the President’s performance in resolving prevalent hunger and food security concerns by these criteria,” Soriano said. So far, he has not delivered anything substantial,” the woman peasant leader added.
“Much of our productive agricultural lands are still under the monopoly control of landed families. We can never attain rice self-sufficiency and food security without first resolving the problem of landlessness among farmers,” said Antonio Flores of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.
“The rice industry remains in severe crisis. Our agriculture also remains vulnerable to natural and man-made calamities. Agricultural products are undervalued, thus farmers endure low income and wages, resulting to deep poverty and indebtedness,” Flores added.
“Lowering of rice prices in the local market and rice shortage has been used by the government to justify rice importation. Massive importation, however, resulted to continuous rice price hike and smuggling. The government must uphold and protect the right to safe and sustainable food for the people primarily rice as staple food,” said Joms Salvador of women’s group Gabriela.
“The genuine development of the domestic rice industry is necessary. To be able to do this, the government must veer away from the neoliberal policy of liberalization of agriculture. We are supporting the legislation of the Rice Industry Development Act to be refiled by Anakpawis Partylist in Congress.”
Bantay Bigas convenors said the local rice industry and agriculture can be strenghtened primarily by the implementation of pro-people policies, provision of adequate support – production subsidies, seeds and organic fertilizers subsidies and free irrigation services for rice farmers.Full utilization of locally-adapted rice varieties, protection of local varieties from appropriations, and recognition of farmers’ rights over seeds including seed exchanging and saving should also be fulfilled. The government must stop land use and crop conversions in all agricultural lands especially those planted with rice and corn.
“We are open to a dialogue with the DA, NFA and even Malacanang to discuss ways to address these concerns. The President should also be made aware that the continuing Martial Law and humanitarian crisis in Mindanao will only worsen the nationwide hunger problem,” Soriano said.
Convenors of Bantay Bigas are Amihan, Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM), IBON Foundation, Incorporated, MASIPAG, Incorporated, Phililppine National Food Security Program (PNFSP), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Pamalakaya Pilipinas, Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agriculture (UMA), Kadamay, NFA-Employees Association, SAMAKANA, Salinlahi, Anakpawis Party List, Bayan Muna Party List, GABRIELA, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and QCPSTA-ACT. #