Why is an agricultural country like the Philippines now importing rice and fish?
I first posted this on my personal social media accounts as a reaction to recent developments in agriculture and food security. There are multiple reports of an apparent rice supply crisis affecting Western Mindanao, which seems to be artificial to me. Then there is also the heavy criticism of the National Food Authority (NFA) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) for the importation of rice stocks from Vietnam that are infested with rice weevils ("bukbok"), with partisan media feasting on both the situation and virtually every statement made by Agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol regarding the situation. Of course, there is also the plan to import galunggong (round scad) stocks from China, Vietnam and Taiwan, which, in my opinion is a necessary temporary supply-side intervention to address rising fish prices and the fact that are waters are overfished (but nobody, not even the partisan media and the Maoist groups like Pamalakaya, recognizes it).
This is a topic that is of great interest to me, an agricultural economist. I decided to write about it in this edition of my column, hoping that the article will provide a better understanding of the situation and where the Philippines stands as an agricultural country. Discussing agriculture and food security issues and concerns is very timely given what is happening lately.
Here is the question: Why is an agricultural country like the Philippines now importing rice from Thailand and Vietnam; and fish from Vietnam, China and Taiwan?
Let us go straight to the point by discussing four things:
- Basic supply and demand. If your country has 100 million (and increasing, no thanks to Roman Catholic Church meddling, lobbying and politicking; and the lack of an effective and efficient population management program) mouths to feed and your local food production cannot keep up with demand, how do you plan to address the supply gap?
- All administrations between Ferdinand Marcos and Rodrigo Duterte did not give value to agriculture and fisheries as important elements of the economy and national security (i.e., food security). They wanted agrarian communities to do away with agriculture and become laborers in the manufacturing and service sectors, which are controlled by the ruling class, with the "pro-masses" Maoists getting regular payola from them. The failure of these administrations to come up with a comprehensive long-term national food security and rural development plan and their sheer lack of regard to agrarian communities brought us to where we are now, a situation that Duterte himself is having difficulty to solve
- The reality is that consumers do not care where their food comes from. All they care about is having readily available, high quality and affordable food choices. With the economies of the world now interconnected to each other and incomes apparently growing, expect consumers to exercise the power of choice- and governments, including that of the Philippines, should recognize that.
- To protect the welfare and interests of farmers and fishermen, and consumers, the opportunists in the middle of the value chain, and their enablers and protectors should be annihilated, while there must be a way to link farmers and fishermen, and consumers more directly without the need to go through a lot of middlemen.