THE Philippines will continue to pursue the national goal of food staples sufficiency, particularly on rice, as the country should not be held to ransom by rice-exporting countries, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said on Monday.
In a media briefing, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said the realities of a globalized market make self-sufficiency on rice a desirable goal, adding that the world rice trade is the subject of political decisions by governments who are the biggest market players and who consider rice a vital commodity.
Alcala, citing the Food Staples Sufficiency Program (FSSP), explained that rice is a thinly traded commodity and that world trade is highly concentrated.
He noted that only 7 percent of the total global production is sold outside national borders – the top five exporters account for 80 percent of total exports, which makes importing countries vulnerable to export bans or restrictions.
“At present, when prices of rice are still low, importation is ideal. They should be careful. Look at the food crisis of 2008… what happens to us if prices of rice in the world market suddenly shoots up?” Alcala said.
Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis Pangilinan earlier said that 90 to 95 percent sufficiency level would be ideal for the country, with the remaining 10 percent will have to be imported to keep prices in the domestic market at bay.
Pangilinan blamed the recent spike in local rice prices to the missed sufficiency targets and the “tendency to downplay import requirements,” which created the tightening supply.
Farmers and civil society groups criticized Pangilinan for “giving in to the pressures of the neo-liberal paradigm of the government’s economic team” and allegedly abandoning the FSSP targets, which he supported when he was still a senator.
Alcala, however, appealed to agriculture stakeholders not to blame Pangilinan for his pronouncements, saying that the former senator may have been receiving wrong data on the country’s production.
“He’s still new to his position. But then again, we would like to remind him that we are already 96 percent (sufficiency in production), why go back to 90?” Alcala said.
“At our current production level, it is good to know that we are doing something right and that we should continue to achieve our target. If we can produce it on our own, why do we need to rely on our neighbors,” he added.
Instead of abandoning rice self-sufficiency targets, Alcala said that the government should focus on how to lower cost of production and prepare Filipino farmers for international trade.
He also said that the government must step up investments in irrigation, extension, and research to reap the full potential of new technology, and sustain these gains into the future.