SEN. Loren Legarda warned on Thursday that a single typhoon directly hitting the country could lead to food crisis similar to the 1995 debacle if the government fails to tackle the rice supply issue based on the recommendations of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).
Legarda pointed out that the country is currently facing a situation similar to what was experienced months before the 1995 rice crisis hit the country.
She noted that the 1995 rice crisis stemmed from the 5.7-percent increase in demand for the staple coupled by droughts in the previous year which led to high rice prices, that, in turn, saw consumers line up for NFA (National Food Authority) rice—then sold at P10.25 a kilo, far cheaper than commercial rice, the rates of which had surged to P21 to P28 a kilo.
“The first of this was the climate; a drought in 1994 led to a stagnation in local rice production that could not keep up with demand. The sad reality is that we are still as vulnerable to the weather as we were almost 20 years ago,” Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on climate change, explained.
She added that absence of rains caused problems in rice supplies then, but today, a strong typhoon bringing excessive rains could cause flooding that could wipe out entire harvests just like what happened in the last quarter of 2010—Typhoon Juan destroyed half a million metric tons of palay.
“Given the intensity and frequency of typhoons hitting the country, it is possible that we could face one or two strong weather disturbances that could have a significant effect on rice supplies, and, consequently, rice prices,” said Legarda.
Another factor that made matters worse in 1995 was government shilly-shallying—it failed to act on two recommendations for importation of rice.
Legarda said that the DA then recommended importation of 300,000 metric tons (MT) of rice; the NFA insisted that the country needed to import 700,000 MT of rice.
The government adopted the DA recommendation that resulted in rice shortage, leading to spiraling rice prices and long lines for cheaper NFA rice.
According to Lagarda the government today faces a similar situation, as two government agencies––the DA and the NEDA, the country’s independent economic development and planning agency––have conflicting views about the necessity of importing rice to meet local demand.
“On one hand, we have the NEDA recommending that we import half a million metric tons of rice to stabilize and lower prices, while on the other, we have the DA, which says that we have adequate rice stocks,” Legarda said.
The senator insisted that the government needs to decide which of the two recommendations makes more sense in light of high rice prices and the possibility of rice supplies being severely affected by future weather disturbances.
Meanwhile, Lagarda also emphasized the need for the government to give more attention and by pouring more resources that could help boost the productivity of the country’s farmers.
“We need to make sure that any steps we take to ensure affordable rice for consumers does not come at the expense of our farmers,” stressed Legarda.
She added that the government has to invest in more farm-to-market roads so that locally produced rice can be transported cheaply to enable farmers to make profits on their crops while making it affordable for the consumer.