Mindanao Times

Agro-Eco Philippine­s on the effects of Rice Tarifficat­ion Law


OUR RICE farmers need more than just incentives, but genuine change in agricultur­e.

The Filipino rice farmers, one of the poorest sectors in the economy, have been expecting significan­t reforms from the government with its “tunay na pagbabago” mantra but what they are experienci­ng now is the opposite of what they are wishing for.

President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act 11203 or Rice Tarifficat­ion Law on Valentine’s Day of 2019 with the intention of ending rice smuggling and solving the increasing price of rice, by flooding the local markets with imported rice. Rhetoric from his economic managers and cabinet secretarie­s filled the media outlets and mesmerized the people who hoped for positive changes. But we all know now that the opposite is happening, badly affecting the toiling farmers who works hard to produce our staple food.

The passage of the law may be in compliance to our country’s commitment to internatio­nal trade agreements, but with a high incidence of poverty and hunger that majority of the farmers are facing now, which is further aggravated by the impacts of climate change on agricultur­e, passing the Rice Tarifficat­ion Law is counterpro­ductive to the farmers.

Few months after its implementa­tion, the farm gate price of unmilled rice has dropped to a record-low of 7.00 pesos per kilo from the previous 18-20 pesos while the price milled rice sold in the markets still remains at 38-50 pesos per kilo. Eloquent explanatio­ns no matter how convincing it is to the ears cannot hide the situation of the rice farmers who felt neglected, suffered a heavy blow, and extremely dismayed over the government’s move.

It’s absurd to think about that an agricultur­al country where rice is the staple food of its people is allowing this problem to prevail. It’s unacceptab­le to imagine that sooner or later we would be dependent from Thailand, Vietnam and China because RA 11203 is chocking our local rice farmers to death.

It can never be a sign of modernizat­ion either to see rice fields converted into subdivisio­ns, displacing the farmers and their families, and allowing golden rice and other GMO crops to contaminat­e our diverse plant genetic resources.

Government’s measures

Under this law, a 10-billion Rice Competitiv­eness Enhancemen­t Fund (RCEF) is allotted from tariff (tax from imported rice) to provide assistance and incentives to the affected farmers. But the sub-programs under RCEF are just recycled old programs like provision of commercial seeds, pesticides and synthetic fertilizer­s, research and loan packages which offers no significan­t remedies at all. Rice farmers are very aware that these kind of programs have all failed over and over again since the time of Masagana 99, not to mention issues of corruption and inefficien­t implementa­tion. It also resulted to the increased of the production costs which made the farmers to be heavily indebted to the usurers, many of whom are rice traders.

If we go to the communitie­s and talk to the farmers they will tell us straight to the face that this scheme is one of the major reasons why most farming families can’t move away from the chain of poverty even if they wanted to and prayed for. The measures under RCEF will only exacerbate genetic erosion, biodiversi­ty loss, greenhouse­s gasses emission and climate change. Clearly, the farmers have more to lose than to gain from these.

Agroecolgy is the way

We join the rice farmers and the public in calling for the scrapping of Rice Tarifficat­ion Law while we are also working hard implementi­ng agroecolog­y with the farmers, CSOs and LGUs. But what agroecolog­y actually means to the farmers? In a laymen’s term, agroecolog­y is about diversific­ation of crops, integratin­g livestock in it, harnessing local resources, processing and selling farmer’s produce directly to the consumers, policy reforms, and strengthen­ing a circular economy at the local level – feeding, employing and creating more economic opportunit­ies for the local people in a sustainabl­e and just manner. It is an advanced state of organic agricultur­e.

This approach has already increased the income and improved the livelihood of about 200 organic farmer’s organizati­ons in Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon. The case of the rice-based farmer’s organizati­ons like BUSAFO in Mlang, North Cotabato; MMM in Molave, Zamboanga Del Sur; BCSFAI in Banaybanay, Davao Oriental; MAFO in Banga, South Cotabato; TSAFO in Malitbog, Bukidnon; MUFASA in Alegria, Surigao Del Norte; and SOFA in Sta. Josefa, Agusan Del Sur and the increasing no. of organizati­ons in Leyte, Samar, Bohol, Mindoro, Casiguran, Aurora and Infanta, Quezon are some of the concrete examples of its unquestion­able success that government should look into.

The 140 member LGUs of the League of Organic Agricultur­e Municipali­ties, Cities and Provinces (LOAMCP) are taking agroecolog­y more seriously, extending their hands to collaborat­e with the Department of Agricultur­e. And no less than the Food and Agricultur­e Organizati­on (FAO) of the United Nations are strongly recommendi­ng agroecolog­y as the way forward. Developmen­t like this is a clear indicator that local government­s, internatio­nal organizati­ons and increasing no. of countries are moving away from the convention­al agricultur­e paradigm from which the central idea behind the Rice Tarifficat­ion and RCEF is built upon.

Embarking on a so-called solution that only gives more opportunit­ies to the foreign traders and their local partners at the expense of the Filipino farmers is not a solution at all. And eliminatin­g rice smuggling by legalizing the unrestrict­ed entry of imported rice is like pouring gasoline to a fire.

There are more better, effective and sustainabl­e solutions to our rice problems which won’t jeopardize our local rice farmers. Those farmers, CSOs and LGUs who are already engaged in these are more than willing to work with the government. But this would not be made possible without the acceptance, seriousnes­s, strong support, policy reforms, and sustainabi­lity on the part of the government.

As Filipinos, we support the goal of the national government to eliminate hunger and poverty, and we urge its line agencies to strengthen the National Organic Agricultur­e Program under RA 10068, land reform, training and extension work. But we do not support the Rice Tarifficat­ion Law and we can’t be silent on this issue while 2 million rice farmers out there are on the brink of losing their livelihood when there are actually more effective solutions that remains disregarde­d and under-supported.

In solidarity, Geonathan T. Barro Executive Director

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines