[Editor’s Note: The second part of this series discussed possible solutions that can help the Philippines attain increased rice production, like developing higher-yielding seeds for use by small farmers, and making sure public funds for the agriculture sector are properly utilized.]
The Department of Agriculture (DA) does not see rice self-sufficiency merely as a production issue, because it has to take into account rice farming which employs from 3.5 million to 7 million people based on the ratio of two farmers tending one hectare of farmland.
“The objection to [rice]self-sufficiency overlooks certain realities of trade. First, countries can be held hostage [by]some economic, political and/or ideological reasons even in a highly globalized world. In particular, the world rice trade is subject to political decisions of governments who are the biggest players in the market. It is politically risky to rely entirely on the private market to ensure food security and to stabilize prices,” the DA’s Food Staples Sufficiency Program (FSSP) stated.
“Moreover, [rice]exports are highly concentrated, with the top five countries accounting for 80 percent of total exports. Importing countries become vulnerable to export bans or restrictions,” it added.
To its credit, the DA has succeeded in increasing annual palay (unmilled rice) production to record levels during the past three years. In 2013, the DA placed the country’s rice self-sufficiency level at 98 percent.
Palay production for 2013 reached 18.44 million metric tons (MT), up from the 2012 production level of 18.03 million MT. An unprecedented increase in palay production from 15.77 million MT in 2010 to 16.68 million MT in 2011 was also achieved.
For 2014, the DA is targeting 19.32 million MT of rice, or a 4-percent increase over last year.
The increasing rice production in the Philippines has also been noted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which has been helping the country raise its rice output.
“President Benigno Aquino 3rd and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala have been pushing rice self-sufficiency, and in support of this goal, IRRI has put its science capacity and results at the disposal of the [Philippine] government, in a series of research projects,” said IRRI Director Dr. Bruce Tolentino.
“All these efforts have been paying off. In recent years, even at this early stage in the programs, we are already seeing at least a modest increase in yields in the Philippines,” he added.
Despite attaining record palay yields in the past few years, the Philippine farming sector has to face serious challenges, such as a growing population and the effects of climate change. Also, the impact of aging farmers on the country’s agriculture sector has not been fully assessed.
The FSSP boldly advocates the consumption of alternative crops that can be easily grown or are readily available.
Dr. Saturnina Halos also sees the need to curb rice losses, which is also stipulated in the FSSP.
According to data from the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), Filipinos waste an average of 2.5 tablespoons of rice daily, which results in P6.2 billion worth of rice being thrown away every year. This is enough to feed 2.6 million Filipinos every year.
President Aquino declared 2013 the National Year of Rice, which, among other objectives, aims to reduce wastage of rice at the table.
But when it comes to easing pressure on domestic rice supplies, encouraging the increased consumption of other staple crops looks very promising.
For Halos, mixing easy-to-grow white corn and rice can help reduce pressure on rice supplies.
“Since white corn production is very efficient, white corn may be cheaper than rice and hence the rice-white corn mix should be cheaper and more accessible to our people,” she said.
A statistical analysis of the DA showed that about 20 percent of Filipinos in the Visayas and Mindanao already eat white corn as their main staple. In the Visayas, the price of corn is cheaper than rice by P2 a kilo.
Besides white corn, the FSSP advocates increased consumption of cassava and saba (cardaba banana) and the humble kamote (sweet potato).
Advocating the increased consumption of other staples besides rice is a wise move because based on an ongoing experiment by the IRRI, rice yields can decline because of climate change.
In an article posted at eco-business.com, the Long-Term Continuous Cropping Experiment (LTCCE) conducted by the IRRI over the past 52 years indicated that rice yields can be adversely affected by climate change.
“If we take the weather data that come from [IRRI’s] Meteorological Station, plug that into crop simulation models, and estimate the potential yield that’s driven by the germplasm and the climate, what we find is that the potential yield over the last 10 to 15 years has been declining,” Dr. Roland Burech, one of the scientists managing LTCCE, was quoted as saying.