With a little more than two years left in the term of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, the current administration must never overlook the need for the Philippines to finally attain its food security goals, especially if the effects of climate change and dwindling land and water resources are taken into account.
Since the Aquino administration assumed office in June 2010, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has made great strides in lifting overall palay (unmilled rice) production to unprecedented levels.
Based on data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS), which is attached to the DA, palay production last year reached 18.44 million metric tons (MT), up from the 2012 level of 18.03 million MT. The Philippines also saw an unprecedented increase in palay production from 15.77 million MT in 2010 to 16.68 million MT in 2011.
For this year, the DA’s palay production target is 19.32 million MT, a 4-percent increase over 2013.
However, it is impossible all Filipinos to live on rice alone, and given the country’s limited lands and water resources, it may be impossible for the country to even achieve 100-percent rice self-sufficiency in the next few years.
In fact, the current El Nino phenomenon has clearly demonstrated that the country’s agriculture sector is actually the hardest hit, when it comes to water shortages. About 80 percent of the country’s water utilization is for growing crops, and thousands of liters of water are needed to irrigate a hectare of rice land to make it productive.
In the meantime, other crops, particularly those that are easier to grow like root crops and white corn, may have been largely overlooked when it comes to research and development (R&D), and promotion as cash crops.
Also, there is a need to pour in more funds for R&D for the livestock, fisheries and poultry subsectors.
Fortunately, various state universities and colleges (SUCs) are pitching in the R&D efforts for other agricultural commodities outside of rice, which to date gets the biggest budget and attention for research activities.
What could be the biggest hindrance for the country to achieve its food security goals, however, is politics.
Politicians know very well the mileage they can gain by using farming projects to advance their political agenda. Large farming projects can also be used as a front to funnel funds into the pockets of political parties or personalities.
We are not saying that the appointment of former Sen. Francis Pangilinan as Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization has politics written all over it. Pangilinan can even work in tandem with Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala Jr. to make the country reach its food self-sufficiency goals.
But as 2016 nears, let us hope that politicians will not use the agriculture sector or the funds allocated for large farming projects to improve their chances of winning in the election.
For many years, the country has been striving to achieve its food security goals, which includes rice self-sufficiency. Not providing genuine support to the small farmers can prove tragic because of the challenges presented by climate change and transgressions like the fertilizer scam.
On the other hand, if food security is achieved by June 2016, it would give President Aquino another feather in his cap upon his leaving the Palace.