MANILA, APRIL 23, 2008
(STAR) By Marianne Go - Consumers may be in for some respite from soaring rice prices, as summer harvests continue and as traders and millers begin unloading some of their stocks.

Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) director Frisco Malabanan said yesterday he learned of the downtrend in rice prices during a visit to a farming community in Nueva Ecija last Sunday.

He said that he learned during the visit that palay buying price has gone down to P15 per kilo, translating to a selling price of P30 per kilo in the markets.

Rice trader Alfonso Angeles of Triple G Rice Center admitted to The STAR that he and some traders have reduced selling prices by as much as P70 per bag due to the low demand for commercial rice as well as the arrival of rice imported by the National Food Authority or NFA.

Angeles also said the market is feeling the effects of the ongoing crackdown by the Department of Agriculture, the NFA and the National Bureau of Investigation on rice hoarding.

He said rice traders and millers have lowered the buying price of palay to P17 to P18 per kilo from a high of P19.

He added that the arrival of imported rice has prompted traders to release some of their stocks. Furthermore, rumors of rice shipments from China have compelled some traders to part with their stocks. China has held off rice exportation to ensure local supply.

But Angeles said the price downtrend may soon be over as the end of the summer harvest season in May approaches. The traditional lean season is from June to July.

Based on the NFA’s tenders, rice purchases are scheduled to arrive continuously from May to July.

P10-B rice budget sought

The DA wants a budget of P10 billion next year for its GMA rice program, which aims to help the country achieve 100 percent rice self-sufficiency.

This was revealed by Malabanan to participants of a roundtable discussion on food security at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna.

Malabanan later told reporters that the DA is still “pencil pushing” the numbers and could not give details on how the P10 billion would be allocated. The budget for the rice program this year stands at only P2.631 billion.

Agriculture officials expect the country’s 4.5 million hectares of farmlands to yield 19.5 million metric tons of rice next year.

Projected palay production for the 2009 dry season is 8.361 million MT, covering 1.930 million hectares of which 350,000 hectares would be planted to hybrid seeds and 1.580 million hectares to certified seeds.

For the 2009 wet season, total palay production is projected at 11.168 million MT, covering 2.583 million hectares of which only 150,000 hectares would be planted to hybrid seeds and 2.433 million hectares to certified seeds.

Projected total rice production for this year is 17.3 million MT. Dry season production is projected at seven million to 7.2 million MT and wet season palay production is forecast at 10 million MT.

But Malabanan said achieving the 100 percent rice sufficiency target hinges on several factors, including the rehabilitation of rundown irrigation systems, provision of adequate post-harvest facilities to minimize post-production losses, meeting seed requirements and ideal climactic conditions.

In appealing to legislators for a bigger budget next year, Malabanan said bigger investments in rice production will enable the government to lessen the allocation for importation.

Malabanan also cited the need for reasonable palay farmgate prices to allow farmers to earn.

“Farmers have to earn. They must be given incentives for them to sustain production,” Malabanan said. He admitted, however, that setting rice farmgate prices is a policy decision of the Government.

IRRI, WB hit on formula

Non-government organization Rice Watch and Action Network (R1) scored experts from the World Bank, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Department of Budget and Management yesterday for downplaying the need for rice self-sufficiency in favor of global market forces.

“While government’s policy pronouncements carry the rhetoric of achieving 100 percent rice self-sufficiency, the DBM declared the country has a comparative disadvantage in rice growing, and that rice self-sufficiency is both costly and illusory,” Jessica Reyes-Cantos, R1 lead convenor, pointed out.

R1 asserted that the government’s reliance on imported rice to satisfy the nation’s requirement will drain the country’s resources without helping bring down the price of commercial rice.

“The officials from the budget department are eating their own words when they declared the costly disadvantage of improving local rice production to feed the people. The government is now forced to import more than two million metric tons even at skyrocketing prices because of the political implication of the shortage of low-priced rice,” Cantos said.

Cantos said that after advising the country to put its trust on the global rice market, IRRI has backtracked and called on officials to “improve agronomic practices, enhance the ability to effectively utilize rice varieties and promote rice breeding.”

“The government chose to listen to these so-called experts and look where they have led us to – the long lines for cheap NFA rice – starkly telling us the huge problem we have to face as global prices are not likely to stabilize and the critical lean months drawing to a close,” Cantos said.

Global rice prices have sharply risen, hitting the $1,000 per metric ton mark from only $430 early this year.

She said the country is paying the price for listening to WB’s and IRRI’s contention that geographic conditions make importation cheaper than investing in rice sufficiency.

R1 said less than 10 percent of rice produced globally is traded in the world market and that 73 percent to 85 percent of total rice exports come from only six rice producing countries. Competing for imported rice are 35 countries, including the Philippines.

Meanwhile, former president Joseph Estrada sought a stop to rice importation and for the government to invest more in farm-to-market roads and irrigation facilities.

“The rice importation is giving millions of dollar kickbacks to a few government officials, that is why I prioritized an increase in palay production during my administration,” he said. “Importation must be stopped because in every importation, they are earning millions of dollars,” Estrada told The STAR.

CARP failure to blame

Nueva Ecija Rep. Edno Joson said the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) as well as the lack of government support for agricultural productivity are to blame for the rice crisis..

“CARP has reduced palay harvest by at least 50 percent in once palay producing areas,” Joson said..

The Nueva Ecija congressman was at a forum hosted by the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development Foundation (PLCD) at the Sulo hotel in Quezon City yesterday.

Joson, a former NFA head, said investing in farm infrastructure and other services is the key to increasing farmers’ productivity.

“We must go beyond just giving the land to the tillers, we have to make sure that our farmers are able to till the land by giving them irrigation, access to credit and providing them subsidies when needed,” Joson said.

Jaime Tadeo, chairman of Paragos Pilipinas, echoed Joson’s concerns, saying many farmers have yet to receive lands that have been approved for distribution.

Tadeo said that out of the 8.1 million hectares of agricultural land placed under CARP, some 1.3 hectares remain undistributed to some 635,000 landless farmers and farm workers.

“Non-distribution of their lands would exacerbate the worsening poverty and hunger in the countryside,” he said.

Lands of FG family eyed

Landless farmers want President Arroyo to order the swift distribution of lands to them, including those owned by the family of the First Gentleman, as the termination of the distribution-clause in CARP looms in June.2008.

Peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM) said the distribution of three haciendas owned by the Arroyo family in Negros Occidental depends on the President’s readiness to instruct the Department of Agrarian Reform to fast track their distribution.

TFM members are camped outside the DAR main office in Quezon City. They arrived from Negros Occidental last week.

TFM president Jose Rodito Angeles said that even if it is clear under the law that Haciendas Bacan, Grande, and Paraiso can be distributed under CARP, the DAR will not dare touch the properties unless there is an order from Malacañang.

“This is a clear case of power politics in agrarian reform. DAR, at this point, is hesitant or afraid to touch the Arroyo properties because the Arroyos are in power,” he said. “It is only President Arroyo now who can set things moving, that is why the Negros farmers have come to Manila to take their case to her,” Angeles said. – With Perseus Echeminada, Jose Rodel Clapano, Katherine Andraneda

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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