The politics of rice


This week’s news was dominated by stories on the rise in prices of rice, garlic and sugar. And surely, it is one issue that may be used by some for political gain and to hurt the administration since rice, for one, is a commodity which affects not just the ordinary man on the street. It is a daily staple. Sabi nga kahit tuyo lang ang ulam basta masarap ang kanin.

At the outset, the Trade department is not in charge of rice, garlic and sugar. This is an area under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture department. It may be unfair if not unjust to put the blame on DTI for the soar in prices. The DTI only takes care of processed food such as canned goods, bread, and milk among others. Of course, they cannot shirk responsibility from what is happening now from the point of view of the consumer since DTI chairs the National Price Coordinating Council so it is duty-bound to make sure that supply is available in the market at reasonable prices.

An article I came across said “Rice is one of the most important commodities in the world. Rice is produced on every continent except Antarctica and in 113 countries. Around 2.5 billion people rely on rice as their main food source. In addition, rice is responsible for over 2 billion jobs in the world. Asia alone has over 200 million rice workers. For many of these people, working in the rice fields is the only life they have ever known. Politics and social factors are deeply intertwined with the rice industry. Millions of people around the world rely on rice. Since so many people depend on rice for food and jobs, governments have tried to maintain strict supervision over the rice trade in their countries. Governments want to balance the needs of both the producers and consumers in their country. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has developed many organizations to regulate and promote the trade of rice. In 1949, the International Rice Commission was created to supervise the production, distribution, consumption, and conservation of rice. The Intergovernmental Group on Rice was created to regulate the trade of rice.

“In 1994, the World Trade Organization created an Agreement on Agriculture which called for reduced government intervention and trade liberalization of rice on the world market. The developing countries followed the WTO’s guidelines and reduced their subsidies, which in turn increases the cost of production for the farmers. Since world rice prices are continually falling, and the price of production is increasing for farmers in developing countries, these farmers are unable to make profits off rice. In order to make profits, poor rice farmers need to add more value to the rice they produce. In response to these policies, groups such as G33, which includes more than 40 countries, have developed to fight for the right of developing countries to use tariffs and guarantee decent prices for their crops.

“Many rice farmers in developing countries have been reduced to poverty. Haiti, a country that relies on rice production, is an example of an economy that greatly suffered from the effects of the rice trade. The country was forced to remove the tariffs in place to protect its own rice, and now most of the rice consumed in Haiti is produced by the United States. To protect developing countries, NGOs have been created. The East Asia Rice Working Group, for example, was created in an effort to exempt rice from trade liberalization.

“The group of people that suffer the most from the politics of rice are women. In general, women complete the more labor-intensive work in the rice fields. During the Green Revolution, high-yielding rice was introduced into developing countries. Since this new rice came at a higher price, the men moved into the cities looking for more money. This left women with both the men’s and their own responsibilities in the rice field. At other times, when men know that they can make a lot of money in the rice fields, they will take over the women’s jobs in the field and leave them with no money. This is why when working to improve social conditions in the rice industry, it is especially important to pay special attention to the role of women. (”

It has been reported that rich countries like Japan, the United States and the European Union provide heavy subsidies to their rice farmers up to $16 billion dollars in 2002. How much subsidy did we provide our farmers?

After rice is taken from the field, it goes through five unique processes. These include cleaning, husking, separating, milling, and grading. In the cleaning stages, unwanted materials are removed from the rice grains. After cleaning, the rice is husked to remove the husk from the paddy. Through a ventilation process, brown rice is removed from the husks. Then, using gravitational pull and friction, a paddy separator separates the brown rice from the unhusked paddy. The unhusked paddy is once again husked. The rice is then milled, which removes the bran layer from brown rice. Finally, the rice is separated by type through a grader. The rice is packaged by grade and ready for shipment. Planting rice is definitely not a joke so let’s not make jokers out of our farmers who make sure that we have rice on our tables each and every meal!

God is Great!


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1 Comment

  1. Ruben V. Calip on

    Of course, we must not make a joke of our farmers. Please read the articles of your fellow columnist Mr. Marlen Ronquillo about rice and farmers and how the Aquino government has neglected them.