How can rice sufficiency be achieved?
Rice remains the main staple of Filipinos. The Philippines is the eighth largest producer of rice in the world, having produced 19.832 million metric tons of rice in 2015 and with production concentrated mainly in Central Luzon, Cagayan Valley and Mindanao. Ironically, the Philippines is also the third largest importer of rice in the world, importing 1.8 million metric tons of rice in 2015.
Since 2000, domestic rice production in the Philippines steadily increased. However, rice consumption also increased at a rate that was faster than the domestic rice production. Larger rice consumption creates a supply gap, as domestic production cannot meet growing demand. The supply gap is being filled through rice importation, which is being managed by the National Food Authority (NFA).
Several factors have been identified as to why domestic rice production failed to meet rising consumer demand. These are: (1) vulnerability of farming to drastic changes in weather and climate, and natural disasters; (2) inefficiencies in traditional rice farming, harvest and postharvest techniques in the country, resulting in lower farm productivity and large amount of wastage; (3) rice production areas in the country are quite limited and are vulnerable to rapid conversion to non-rice production or rapid and uncontrolled conversion for non-agricultural uses; (4) increasing demand for rice is due to a growing population, more mismatches created between domestic rice production and consumption; (5) effects of the rice value chain on the proper distribution of rice stocks due to the involvement of too many middlemen and other individuals; (6) artificial interventions by the rice cartel such as hoarding, infiltration of farmers' groups and cooperatives, and smuggling of imported rice to manipulate supply and prices of local rice; and (7) the inconsistent government policy on food security and the agricultural sector, especially on rice farmers.
The rice supply gap is further worsened by the growing population of the Philippines. With a 2015 population of 100,699,395 and still increasing, domestic rice farms are further pressured to meet demand, but they fail to do so, resulting in a supply gap. Hence, the government must have a credible, efficient and effective population management program, as a growing population, leads to higher demand for food, a major food security concern.
From 2000 to 2014, the Philippines consistently have been more of a consumer than of producer of rice. Depending on domestic production alone will not be enough to meet the growing consumption of and demand for rice. It will take a long time, radical measures and political will before rice self-sufficiency, which is the ability of the country's domestic rice production output to meet demand, and has been the one of the goals of past and present governments, can be achieved.
Instead of focusing solely on rice self-sufficiency, the government should introspect on how rice sufficiency can be achieved. Rice sufficiency simply refers to the ability of the country to secure its rice supply and ensure that there is easy access to it regardless of the location where it is sourced. It can be attained through a carefully thought of and executed mix of measures that involve increasing the capacity of domestic rice farms to increase output, filling the gap in supply through imported rice stocks and storing the rice stocks in strategic areas of the country to ensure that all Filipinos will have access to them, especially during times of dire need. Rice sufficiency is more achievable and, for now a more realistic approach in addressing the gaps between supply and demand of rice in the Philippines is needed.
It may take several years before the Philippines can become rice self-sufficient. To attain this, a series of necessary steps, all of which will involve political will, must be undertaken. These include the adoption of modern farming, harvest and postharvest techniques to improve yields and reduce wastage; development and eventual adoption of new high yielding, pest resistant, and drought and flood resistant varieties; protection of rice farms and other agricultural lands from rapid and uncontrolled conversion to non-agricultural uses; construction of new and continuous improvement of existing farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, dryers, storage houses and other facilities that are vital to farming, linking farmers to market places; full implementation of laws against hoarding, smuggling and price manipulation to ensure that consumers have access to steady rice supply at reasonable prices.
The best way for the country to achieve rice sufficiency is to encourage farmers to stay in farming; younger people to venture into it, promote agriculture not as just as job but as a profitable business. The lack of adequate support to farmers, farming communities and farmers' groups; and inconsistent economic and policies and planning by the State toward agriculture and food security not only affected the supply and price of rice but have forced farmers, most of whom are aging and with limited educational attainment, to either switch to planting crops that will significantly earn their income or abandon farming altogether and, in the case of farmer land owners, sell their farms to real estate developers. Insufficient income derived from and the hard physical work involved with agriculture, lack of development of rural areas, and the lure of higher paying jobs in Metro Manila and other cities caused most of the rural youth to lose interest and move away.
There is also a need for the government to come up with ways that will link rice farmers closer to consumers without going through the usual middlemen-filled agricultural value chain. Rice farmers should be enabled and empowered to perform activities such as milling, processing and marketing, which can become possible through enhanced access to credit and technology. The establishment of regular "farmers' markets," which is now known as the "TienDA" program under the current leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, in Metro Manila and other key urban areas across the country is also key step in meeting such need.