Lawmaker warns of widespread hunger

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Amid reports of a looming rice shortage, Sen. Loren Legarda warned of widespread hunger if rice production shortfalls are not immediately addressed.

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She cited the report of National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio Bali-sacan to President Benigno Aquino 3rd stating that domestic supplies are currently low and can only be augmented by importing 500 metric tons (MT) of rice.

The Balisacan memorandum also detailed how the third quarter production forecast of 7.4 million MT does not suffice to cover total utilization amounting to 9.1 million MT.

“If domestic production cannot meet demand, prices will naturally increase—as they already have—which may lead to widespread hunger if unabated,” Legarda said.

She added that the situation is “alarming because it goes beyond just the issue of rice self-sufficiency. It has become a food security concern.”

Balisacan noted a deficit of 1.7 million MT without buffer stocks and warned that this could even balloon to 2.6 million MT if a 30-day buffer stock is factored in.

“This probably explains why the public continues to be burdened with unstable rice prices despite assurances from agricultural officials that buffer stocks are sufficient and production figures within target,” said Legarda.

In his memorandum for the President, Balisacan supposedly recommended the importation of at least half-a-million MT of rice to “address the projected supply gap and stabilize prices or possibly lower them.”

Previous policy recommenda-tions by both the NEDA and the country’s rice self-sufficiency roadmap, the Food Staples Security Program (FSSP) have consistently maintained, however, that importations should be done by the private sector and not the National Food Authority (NFA).

Balisacan, himself a former agriculture undersecretary, in various published papers, had proposed “relieving the NFA of the burden of handling rice imports” supposedly because of the corruption associated with these transactions.

It was previously alleged that the DA-NFA April importation was overpriced by as much as nearly half-a-billion pesos.

The lady senator earlier filed Senate Resolution 233, which paved the way for the Senate agriculture committee’s inquiry on the matter.

“We will continue to look into those allegations. What is certain is that government should spend more for irrigation development programs that will increase pro-ductivity in the country sides and provide better livelihood opportu-nities for our farmers,” said Legarda, a known advocate of sustainable agricultural development.

Because of this, Legarda pushed for the strengthening of support for farmers in order to increase the country’s rice productivity.

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