Agro-Eco Philip­pines on the ef­fects of Rice Tar­if­fi­ca­tion Law

Mindanao Times - - COMMUNITY - DOU­GLAS GILLISON

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

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