Philippine Daily Inquirer - - LETTERS -

Rice price hike is still an alarm­ing is­sue and de­spite calls from var­i­ous con­cerned groups ad­vo­cat­ing for food se­cu­rity and safe and af­ford­able qual­ity rice for all, the gov­ern­ment is still do­ing noth­ing to stop it.

Since the be­gin­ning of the year, some re­tail­ers have al­ready ex­pressed their con­cern over the short­age of rice sup­ply from the Na­tional Food Au­thor­ity, prompt­ing them to re­sort to sell­ing ex­pen­sive com­mer­cial rice. This short­age caused an in­crease of P1 to P4 per kilo in com­mer­cial rice, which now ranges from P40 to P54 as com­pared to NFA rice which sells from P27 to P32.

The sup­ply short­age has led the gov­ern­ment to use it as an ex­cuse to im­port rice at a cheap price from other coun­tries. The gov­ern­ment has again cho­sen rice im­por­ta­tion in­stead of lo­cal palay pro­cure­ment. In the end, the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion failed to re­solve the rea­son be­hind the re­cur­ring NFA rice sup­ply short­age and re­sult­ing price hike.

Farm­ers con­tinue to earn mea­ger amounts from sell­ing palay and bury them­selves in debt due to high agri­cul­tural costs and ex­penses, and traders who mo­nop­o­lize the rice in­dus­try. In this in­ter­play, it is clear who the losers are: farm­ers and con­sumers, es­pe­cially the poor. There is the im­mi­nent dan­ger of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing hunger more of­ten. This se­vere sit­u­a­tion is fur­ther ag­gra­vated by the Tax Re­form for Ac­cel­er­a­tion and In­clu­sion (TRAIN) law, which also im­poses higher taxes on petroleum, sugar, and other ba­sic com­modi­ties that are nec­es­sary for the poor to sur­vive.

The gov­ern­ment needs to pri­or­i­tize lo­cal palay pro­cure­ment over im­por­ta­tion. If the NFA would use its P7-bil­lion bud­get to pro­cure lo­cal rice, it would not only help farm­ers but the con­sumers, too. The gov­ern­ment can also im­ple­ment a pro­vi­sional price con­trol un­til the is­sue on sup­ply is re­solved.

For long-term rem­edy on the chronic rice cri­sis, the gov­ern­ment should strengthen lo­cal rice pro­duc­tion through de­vel­op­ment and preser­va­tion of tra­di­tional rice va­ri­eties that are bet­ter suited to the farm­ers’ needs and farm con­di­tions. Most im­por­tant is the en­act­ment of a gen­uine agrar­ian re­form pro­gram that would end the cen­turies-old prob­lem of land monopoly and pro­vide ad­e­quate and suf­fi­cient sup­port ser­vices and sub­si­dies to lo­cal farm­ers, as well as veer away from ne­olib­eral poli­cies which have caused dam­age on lo­cal agri­cul­ture, es­pe­cially on farm­ers’ liveli­hood and the lo­cal rice in­dus­try.

CATHY ESTAVILLO, spokesper­son, Ban­tay Bi­gas, ban­tay­bi­

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