A rare gathering of rice industry stakeholders was held at the Century Conference hall of the Quezon Memorial Circle last Friday, September 17, 2010. Themed: “ National Rice Industry Consultative Exchange (RICE): Towards Strengthening the Philippine Local Rice Industry,” the gathering was attended by more than 130 participants composed of rice millers, small rice traders and retailers, farmers, consumers, farmers’ cooperatives, irrigators associations, farmers, and advocates from the country’s various sectors.
Initiated by Bantay Bigas, a multisectoral alliance of consumers, farmers, the urban poor, workers, women and government employees advocating sufficient, safe and affordable rice for every Filipino family, this first-of-its-kind gathering aimed to bring into a forum the varying perspectives and interests of the local rice industry sectors, how they are affected by government policies and programs; and to come up with a common platform to protect and strengthen the local rice industry.
Bantay Bigas spokesperson Lita Mariano, said: “This is unprecedented. This is an initial step towards addressing the chronic rice crisis that continuously besets our country. This is the broadest gathering of sectors whose common position is to protect and strengthen the local rice industry.”
IBON Executive Director Rosario Bella Guzman provided an overview of the local rice industry, which she explained is characterized by the crisis of overproduction wrought by globalization that forces the importation of surplus produce into countries that are likewise plagued by the chronic crisis of backward agricultural production.
Joji Co, president of Philcongrains batted for the improvement of technology used for local rice milling to increase the recovery rate of rice mills from the current 58-60% to 65-67%. He lamented the backwardness of technology in agriculture as well as the excessive profits made by private traders cum importers who reap as much as Php300 per sack.
Irrigators’ Association leader Mr. Silver Bontoc stressed that local irrigators must have full control of irrigation projects. He expressed puzzlement over huge funds allocated for irrigation projects by the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) wherein in each irrigation project, only 40% of the project cost reaches provinces and the remaining 60% is unaccounted for.
KADAMAY representative Carlito Badion echoed consumers’ interests by saying that rice prices should be brought back to P18.25 per kilo and criticized government for conditioning the public that the National Food Authority (NFA) is incapable fulfilling its mandate for food stability and security, thus justifying its privatization.
NFA Employees Association Chairperson Roman Sanchez lambasted the drive towards the full privatization of the NFA. He warned that the Philippines might become the next Mozambique where initial attempts to ration food amid shortage led to food riots and chaos. Sanchez also pointed out that not only the NFA but all members of the decisive Inter-Agency Committee on Rice and Corn (IAC-RC) should be investigated regarding the alleged over-importation of rice.
Anakpawis Partylist Representative Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano meanwhile explained inconsistencies in President Aquino’s inaugural speech and Budget Message with regard to the rice industry, which sounds optimism for rice sufficiency in a few years on one hand but remains silent on strengthening local rice production and putting a stop to the massive conversion of agricultural lands to non-agricultural and purely commercial use. He likewise called on the participants to support two bills pertinent to the rice industry: House Bill 3105 or the Rice Industry Development Act (RIDA) pushing for the strengthening of the local rice industry as opposed to its privatization; and House Bill 374 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) pushing for genuine land distribution as opposed to the current CARPer which still allows big landlords to retain ownership of vast landholdings.
Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte who graced the event expressed support for the rice sector’s call for self-sufficiency in terms of rice production in particular and food security in general.
The Rice Industry Consultative Exchange ended significantly with all attending sectors signing a unity pact summarizing the rice sector’s demands, to wit:
(1) strengthen the local rice industry by providing adequate budget, subsidies and services towards attaining 100% Rice Self-Sufficiency;
(2) maintain the Php 8 billion subsidy of NFA for 2011 with additional budget of at least Php 15 billion for palay procurement from farmers to ensure availability of affordable rice for the poor without having to rely on artificially cheap imported rice;
(3) increase NFA's procurement equivalent to at least 25% of rice available at the local market;
(4) provide modern tools and machineries for planting, harvesting, and processing of rice to improve and increase total rice production in the country;
(5) prioritize infrastructure development for irrigation over increased farm areas for palay production;
(6) scrap deregulation, liberalisation and privatization in all its forms such as decoupling, rationalization, re-engineering and restructuring that leads to abandonment of NFA’s mandate of ensuring food security and stabilization of supply of affordable rice (food);
(7) protection of the local rice (grains) industry, from anti-people policies dictated by international financial institutions led by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the USAID, and, international and multilateral trade organizations/associations as the World Trade Origanization (WTO) and the Asean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA);
(8) end all land use and crop conversions;
(9) unite for a clean and transparent governance towards attaining fully developed local rice industry and 100% rice self sufficiency and food security;
(10) implement a genuine agrarian reform program towards free land distribution for landless farmers and farmworkers.#eof#
Reference: Lita Mariano, Spokesperson | Mobile: 09302016879