Calls for the private sector to import rice without restrictions filled the pages of the newspapers last week, and a Department of Justice legal opinion even said that the quantitative restrictions placed by the government on rice imports violates World Trade Organization rules or agreements.
The reports even said that because the price of locally-produced rice continues to increase, the consumers suffer and allowing cheaper imported rice into the country will benefit consumers.
What is alarming in the calls for the private sector to import rice is it completely ignores certain realities over the medium to long-term, and it only shows a lack of national pride among Filipinos.
Since imported rice is definitely cheaper than locally-produced rice and more consumers will likely buy it, the source of livelihood of the more than one million farmers nationwide will be in danger of being destroyed. And since the average age of the Filipino farmer is between 55 and 59 years old, this means that displaced rice farmers will have a hard time finding jobs in sectors like manufacturing or even business process outsourcing.
It is actually a wonder as to how the mere thought that up to one million rice farmers will join the ranks of the unemployed is completely ignored in the argument to allow rice importation by the private sector.
While some rice farmers can shift to farming corn, vegetables and livestock, the self-sufficiency level of the country for those farm products is already 90 percent or above.
Those calling for the entry or cheaper rice imports into the Philippines also don’t realize that the country can become self-sufficient in rice in just a few years, and restoring and rehabilitating watersheds can be done to assure that rice lands will have enough irrigation, even during the dry months.
Also, the country has its own rice research institute in the Philippine Rice Research Institute and even hosts the International Rice Research Institute. The University of the Philippines-Los Banos was also recently cited as one of the top universities in the world when it comes to offering courses in agriculture and forestry.
The calls for the private sector to freely import rice in the Philippines also shows Filipinos lack a sense of national pride. Perhaps the Filipinos can learn from the Chinese, who for many years strived to have a rice production base, with even Yuan Longping considered a “national treasure” because of his development of hybrid rice technology.
Longping, in a past interview with The Manila Times, said that the Chinese government cleared forests so his country can increase rice production to feed its growing population. China did this despite having the option of importing rice from countries like Thailand.
Today, China’s rice yield is between six metric tons to eight MT per hectare, while it is between three MT to four MT for the Philippines. However, because of works of agencies like PhilRice, IRRI and other government agencies, there are rice lands in the Philippine capable of producing four MT to six MT per hectare.
And even if China is now the world’s largest importer of rice, its drive to produce rice is not slowing down, with savants like Longping looking for ways to increase yields per hectare up to 10 MT per hectare.
Compared to the Philippines, China’s agriculture sector is modern because its mechanization level is 4.10 horsepower per hectare, while it is 1.23 hp/ha for the country.
But it is not only in rice production that the Philippines can learn from China.
China is now among the top producers of mobile and smart phones in the world, with Huawei now tailing Samsung and Apple. And while Chinese cars are still ridiculed in some parts of the world, the truth is the Philippines cannot produce its own branded automobile from ground up.
This is not to advocate a restriction of imports into the Philippines, because the country still needs to import machinery for its industries, and products that the country exports still need raw materials shipped from other countries.
However, to import in large quantities a commodity like rice that can be produced in the Philippines does not make sense, especially if one takes into account the potential social problem of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of rice farmers losing their livelihood.
Many years back, the Philippines was tagged as a “country of consumers.” The same can be said today. On the other hand, China has become a top producer of various products, and is able to impose its military might on the Philippines.