Monday, May 12, 2008

Rice is life

Rice is life
The UN-backed Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched the International Year of Rice in 2004 to address a major global problem: Increased, sustainable rice production as key to global food security. Rice is the world's most popular food, a symbol of cultural identity and global unity. It shapes religious observances, festivals, customs, cuisine and celebrations. Yet all is not well in the world of rice. Growth in rice yields is slowing, and is already falling behind population growth. Most rice farmers are poor, but national policies often favor the consumer and export market.
The year's theme -- "Rice is life" -- reflects the importance of rice as a primary food source, and is drawn from an understanding that rice-based systems are essential for food security, poverty alleviation and improved livelihoods.

Rice is the staple food for over half of the world's population and FAO projections show that by 2030, total demand for rice will be 38 per cent higher than the annual amounts produced between 1997 and 1999. In order to meet future demand, new methodologies and production technologies are necessary because land and water resources are under threat.
Because rice does not contain all the elements necessary for a balanced diet, a key aspect of the International Year of the Rice is to encourage rice producers to intensify the rice production system and fully exploit their capacity to raise fish and livestock.
Rice in numbers
Rice is cultivated in 113 countries -- the staple food for over half the world's population.
Rice provides 27 percent of dietary energy supply and 20 percent of dietary protein intake in the developing world. Rice cultivation is the principal activity and source of income for about 100 million households in Asia and Africa.
Of the 840 million people suffering from chronic hunger, over 50 percent live in areas dependent on rice production for food, income and employment. About four-fifths of the world's rice is produced by small-scale farmers and is consumed locally.
Rice: The issues
To meet the food needs of the world's rapidly expanding population, rice-producing countries, most especially the Philippines who have attained the dubious distinction of the top rice importer, must address a range of issues.

Since the 1970s, demand for rice has been met due to high-yielding varieties and improved production methods. Irrigation was key -- during the green revolution irrigated area grew by 4 to 5 million hectares per year. Today, as populations grow, land and water resources for rice production are diminishing.

Excessive use of pesticides in rice farming pollutes water and creates health hazards. Intensive irrigation can cause salinization and water logging. Flooded rice is a major source of methane emission while the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers produces nitrous oxide -- both are greenhouse gases linked to global warming. One solution is integrated pest and crop management, which teaches farmers to monitor the pests in their fields and adopt practices that reduce the need for pesticides.


Small-scale rice farmers may never be rich, but they too can benefit from improved technologies and methods, if the improvements are designed with small-scale needs in mind. Double-cropping with tomatoes or cabbage, for example, can increase income. Farmers have less access to credit, farm inputs, marketing facilities and extension services - a missed opportunity to boost production and reduce poverty. National policies often favor the consumer instead of being pro-poor. Increased rice production also means more jobs in support sectors such as milling, marketing and trading.


In addition to being a source of energy, rice provides thiamine, riboflavin and niacin and can be improved by using traditional selective plant breeding and by simply omitting the polishing process that removes the bran (brown rice.).


Biotechnology (genetic engineering) can help increase yields and reduce the need for inputs. But there are human and environmental safety concerns, and benefits should flow not only to multinational companies but also to farmers.
Although the use of new, high-yielding varieties instead of traditional rice varieties brought huge gains in yield, the planting of a single variety over large areas year after year may compromise genetic resistance to pests. Research needs to be supported to continue the search for new, more pest-resistant varieties. The rice genome was recently mapped fully and more effective breeding is expected.

Hybrid technology

High-yielding rice varieties arguably take credit for much of the remarkable gain in rice production over the past 35 years. Yet since 1966, yields have been stagnant. Unfortunately, the cost of hybrid seed production is four to five times higher than normal seeds - out of reach for most poor farmers. The local experience of hybrids did not encourage widespread use.

After the harvest

A significant portion is lost after harvesting by hand harvesting and threshing, which are still common, rudimentary grain drying prevails and rice is poorly stored. Often 10 to 37 percent of the harvest is lost, especially in the rainy season. Improved silos, and new varieties more tolerant to delayed harvesting would help.
UN’s warning
In early 2008, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned in a March 12 article in the Washington Post that the world was “facing a perfect storm of new challenges.”
He pointed to the prices of wheat, corn and rice soaring to historic highs of up to 50 percent or more in the past six months and cereal stocks dropping to record lows. Food riots had erupted from West Africa to South Asia.
“In the here and now, we must help the hungry hit by rising food prices. That means, for starters, recognizing the urgency of the crisis—and acting,” said Ban.
Governments of several food-growing countries, worried about domestic shortages, have imposed export curbs, spooking markets at a time when world inventories are down sharply.
The Lancet echo
The era of cheap food is over. In the past year, the cost of wheat has risen by 130%, rice by 120%, with corn and soya not far behind. As a result, millions of people are starving and at least 100 million more people will be pushed further into poverty. Food, the fundamental determinant of health, is unaffordable to an increasing proportion of the world's population. As usual, the poorest are affected the most, with those living in absolute poverty—less than US$1 a day—surviving on just one meal a day if they are lucky. And since the International Fund for Agricultural Development has estimated that the number of food-insecure people in the world will rise by 16 million for every percentage increase in the prices of staple foods, this situation is likely to get worse. The target of MDG 1—to reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger—is in reverse.
There are many contributing factors to the current crisis. The world will have 3 billion more mouths to feed by 2050. Emerging economies are not only eating more, but eating more meat. (It can take up to 9 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of meat.) Crop yields in developing countries have fallen dramatically with diminishing returns for at least a decade. Climate change has disrupted crop growth and water distribution. After the collapse of the US housing market, investors are ploughing trillions of dollars into commodities, such as food and raw materials, resulting in a “commodities super-cycle” where commodity price inflation feeds on itself leading to hugely inflated prices. Global trade distortions, where subsidized produce from rich countries is dumped on the markets of poorer ones, have wrecked the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and decreased local food production. But one of the largest contributors to the crisis is the rise of biofuels—in which potential food crops are burned as fuel in car engines—a situation that the UN Special Rapporteur for the right to food, Jean Ziegler, has called “a crime against humanity”.
Biofuels once perceived as the green alternative to fuel have recently been discredited. After the agricultural displacement effects of these fuels are taken into account, emissions from biofuels are many times worse than those from fossil fuels. Yet in the drive to make the USA self-sustaining for fuel production, massive ethanol subsidies and millions of acres of American corn have led to a boom in biofuels. American cars now burn enough corn to cover the import needs of 82 food-deficit countries. But thanks to a backlash against biofuels in Europe, the European Union, once committed to a 10% biofuel target by 2020, is now sensibly rethinking its position.
Drop export restrictions

The surfeit of worrisome news induced some worry wrinkles on Pinoy officialdom. The Philippines is now the world’s top importer of rice.
NFA Administrator Jessup Navarro, in a briefing he gave to a House panel on the country’s rice situation, said that the NFA had only been able to buy 1 percent of the local market production, but there was neither a sense of urgency evident in the presentation nor did it ring alarm bells, says Rep. Carlos Padilla of Nueva Vizcaya. The NFA was making the usual justification for its prolonged existence, Padilla says.
Traders were puzzled and obviously unaware of a food problem of global proportions.

For the Filipino rice traders, it was business as usual, dismissing threats of shortfalls.
They say that unscrupulous elements in the state-owned NFA were obviously out to make money by faking a rice shortage, thereby jacking up the price of the commodity.
There are also a number of ways to make money out of the situation, mainly hoarding rice bought from the NFA at subsidized rate to be sold when the prices soar.
If you have the right connections, it is easy says a trader. Interviews with traders conducted by one paper said they could obtain a cavan (40 kilos) of rice from the NFA at P862, pay P100 to the NFA connection, for a total acquisition price of P962. The rice is then put on a grader to segregate the broken rice, then rebagged and sold at double the acquisition price.

Citing a study of the Department of Finance last year, Angara says the NFA has accumulated P111 billion in debts and this is likely to balloon unless the country is able to address a looming rice shortage. "If we let go of the NFA and give it full rein subsidizing and importing rice, then we will have a bottomless pit that will consume so much of our taxpayers' money," Angara says.
The NFA was originally called the National Grains Authority formed under one of the first decrees issued by President Ferdinand Marcos shortly after he declared martial law in September 1972. NFA was tasked to ensure the growth of the grains industry – rice, corn, feed grains. Control of rice and other grains was deregulated subsequently and NFA concentrated solely in ensuring an adequate supply of rice at affordable prices.
ADB wants NFA phased out

"The targeted safety net programs will ensure that the remaining subsidized rice programs are reserved for the poor, without depressing farmgate prices," the ADB report said. "The government will retain the regulatory function of maintaining a maximum 30-day buffer stock (on 1 July of each year) to supplement the stocks of paddy farmers and private traders during the traditional lean season and guard against price volatility due to natural calamities. Agricultural scientists who did the study say that even in that basic role, the NFA had failed.
Blueprint for food security
REPUBLIC Act 8435, otherwise known as the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA), aims to strengthen the agriculture and fishery sectors through modernization, greater participation of small-holders (or small stakeholders), food security and food self-sufficiency, private sector participation and people empowerment.
The program envisions a modernized and productive agriculture and fishery sector, being able to provide food at prices affordable to all, especially the marginalized sectors, which will eventually be empowered as the benefit from responsive support services provided them.
The immediate concern is to stimulate direct investments in support of the following: protection and development of watersheds; proper management of agricultural land and water resources; establishments and rehabilitation of irrigation systems; providing marginalized sectors preferential access to productive assets; and providing other essential measures and support services. Providing affordable, available, adequate and accessible food supplies at all times is paramount.
People empowerment will strengthen the partnership of the agriculture department with local institutions, particularly LGUs and non-government organizations and people's organizations (NGOs and POs) and the private sector, a strategic move in improving the country's agricultural productivity and food security.
Meanwhile the National Foods Authority (NFA), by April 2008, is releasing 33,100 metric tons of subsidized rice for daily consumption, but the queues get longer and more jittery as import sources dry up.
Agriculture Undersecretary Jesus Emmanuel Paras, for his part, cited several causes of unabated price increases of rice, one of which was the increasing price in the world market. He disclosed that in 2006 the price of rice was $240 per ton but has tripled by the first quarter of 2008 to $885 per ton. He also blamed the non-release of the budget for Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) intended to fund the irrigation system in the country.
According to Paras, under the AFMA, a P6 billion budget every year was allocated for irrigation however, he said not a single centavo was released, which explains why irrigation remains a problem.
Sen. Pia Cayetano joined the clamor in the Senate for a probe on the rice crisis, saying over the Lenten break she reviewed the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act which included policies to modernize, to shift from basic to technologically based farming, to be self-sufficient. What happened to that, she asked rhetorically. We passed this law 10 years ago, and I would like the resolution to include our oversight function to look into what happened to the implementation of this law. In fact it’s also tied into my committee on environment because this law also states that watershed should be preserved as long as DENR and the Department of Agriculture declare that it is needed for irrigation purposes, she said. (More on water here and here.)
The Philippines’ massive purchases of rice at sharply increased prices from its neighbors are creating a fast-buck opportunity for traders in Indonesia, where prices are controlled, to smuggle the commodity out through Singapore for eventual sale in the Philippines.

Rice in government-controlled storage in Indonesia sells for US$436.80 per ton at a time when the Philippine government and rice traders are offering up to US$1,000 per ton in Vietnam and Thailand. The skyrocketing rice price and the attendant smuggling opportunities are generating political concerns in both countries, with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last week ordering government officials to prevent rice smuggling to other countries.
A top political source in Jakarta last week said the government is increasingly worried that rising rice prices and potential shortages could cause political unrest. “This is rice, and that means trouble if it goes wrong,” said the source. Yudhoyono has also sent a letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging him to take measures to ease speculation in commodity markets.
The strategy and the threats to self sufficiency
PGMA has given a new name to the AFMA law, or so it seems. The presidential program called FIELDS face questions coming from concerned groups, Centro Saka among them, alarmed over the aggressive promotion of hybrid rice. Centro Saka is a policy research and advocacy non-government organization, the secretariat to the National Rice Farmers Council, a loose coalition of small farmers nationwide organization formed in 2003.
FIELDS stands for Fertilizers, Irrigation and other infrastructure, Extension and education, Loans, dryers and post-harvest facilities and Seeds. But questions regarding the soundness of some of these solutions have to be raised.
Increasing irrigated hectares requires more sources of impounded water to offset the demand of population center needs. Untrammeled population fertility will intensify the competition for water. Innovative concepts, radical if you will, must be applied to address funding and other obstacles: construct mini-dams to impound water for multi-purpose use – sanitation, irrigation, power generation with mini-generators. The concept averts problems of big dams (rights of way, power transmission losses, more)
No to FIELDS of hybrid seeds
While the multi-billion additional funding for rice and several other crops is a welcome development, Centro Saka disagrees with how the government plans to spend it. The FIELDS package shows that the government intends to increase the hectarage devoted to hybrid rice production, with an allocation of P2.7 billion until 2010.
“We find this difficult to understand given the poor performance of the hybrid rice program and the many issues that have been raised against it over the years,” said Centro Saka executive director Omi Royandoyan and National Rice Farmers Council president Jimmy Tadeo.
Centro Saka says that as it is currently designed, the P43.7-billion package of intervention measures will merely perpetuate the misguided strategies that have turned the Philippines into the world’s biggest rice importer. In subsidizing hybrid rice, the Philippines would be subsidizing big seed companies like SL-Agrictech, including multinationals like Bayer and Monsanto, when the money could be used to support our own rice farmers. The design of the FIELDS interventions will actually make the rice program dependent on private companies with no accountability to the public.
Centro Saka says it straight: “Equally disturbing is hybrid rice’s heavy reliance on chemical-based inputs to reach optimum yields. With the skyrocketing prices of inorganic fertilizers which now stand at P1,700, hybrid rice production will only force rice farmers deeper into indebtedness, even as the big fertilizer companies reap windfalls of profit. All of this, plus the damage to the environment that chemical-based farming, as shown in numerous studies, will certainly cause.”
When will we ever learn? Centro Saka asks. The present crisis is clear evidence that the old strategy of putting all eggs in one basket, i.e., dumping the lion’s share of resources into the expensive and flawed hybrid rice program was a huge mistake. In fact, Centro Saka adds, the contribution of the hybrid rice, which has received billions of pesos in government support, pales in comparison with the over 50 percent contribution of good seeds which have been receiving practically no support from government. And yet there is all this talk of increasing funding for rice hybridization.
The government’s only rationale for insisting on hybrid rice is the supposed higher yield advantage when compared with traditional and other inbred varieties. But this is not really the case. In the field, farmer-selected and bred seeds have been shown to be comparative even superior to hybrid rice which has an average yield of less than 7 metric tons per hectare.
Read this: “According to some studies, yields from good seeds and certified seeds can reach a maximum of 9 metric tons per hectare and 10 metric tons per hectare, respectively. Using the latest rice hectarage of 4,272,000 hectares, we can assume that the country can produce as much as 38,448,000 million metric tons of ‘palay’ [rice before milling], or 29,904,000 metric tons of milled rice using only good seeds. This is even assuming a low milling recovery of only 60 percent.”
Here’s more: “Actual field experience with farmer developed varieties also show that yields of up to 7 metric tons per hectare are achievable using organic farming practices. This compares favorably to the less than 6 metric tons per hectare average yield for hybrid rice. Rice farmers who employed the system of rice intensification managed to produce yields reaching as high as 9 metric tons per hectare. Moreover, the small rice farmers have been reporting milling recovery rates of 70 percent which is much higher than that registered by hybrid rice. What is even more notable is that the small rice farmers were able to achieve this level of production without government support. Strangely, government has not tapped the expertise of these organic rice farmers.”
So Centro Saka argues that by simply providing farmers with good quality seeds, specifically the traditional and farmer-developed varieties, promoting organic rice farming and constructing additional irrigation facilities, government could set the country on the road to self-sufficiency in food production. So it is best for government to abandon its current policy of relying on hybrid rice and importing rice as solutions to the food crisis. Instead, government should pursue the implementation of the Rice Master Plan that the small rice farmers have long been advocating.
That’s more than just food for thought.
HHybrid rice blog Philippines: Who's really benefiting from hybrid rice subsidies?
Subsidies have always been the lifeblood of the hybrid rice industry. It's the one constant within the otherwise varied experiences of countries that have adopted hybrid rice. The PR machine might help boost sales of seeds and chemical inputs but its the subsidies that are really needed to get farmers planting hybrid rice in their fields. Take away these subsidies and the hectarage soon starts shrinking, be that in China where it's largely grown, India where its struggling to make headway, or Indonesia where the government is pursuing an ambitious revival. Governments come up with all sorts of subsidy schemes, many of them quite creative, in order to develop, commercialize and promote the use of rice hybrids. The Philippines is no exception.

Back in 2001, under the government's Hybrid Rice Commercialization Program (HRCP) - then attached to the Office of the President but later passed on to the Philippine Rice Institute (Philrice) of the Department of Agriculture – participating farmers received subsidized seeds and fertilizers at discounted rates. They also benefited from guaranteed crop insurance and enhanced production loans. It was a neat package that naturally attracted many capital-poor farmers.

For some of these farmers, the rice hybrids did increase yields, but for many, the crop failed. Reports flooded in of standing crops not forming any grain and increased incidences of destructive pests. It was a disaster that the government refused to neither acknowledge nor address. Instead it beefed up its hybrid rice promotion strategy in the media (tapping groups like the Philippine Science Journalists Association) and directed its PR department to focus on a few, often exaggerated, 'success stories'. New ways to extend its subsidies were devised (e.g. the National Food Authority putting priority on buying hybrid rice instead of inbred or traditional varieties) to keep hybrid rice production from sinking. Few farmers ended up profiting from this largess; rather the money flowed into the pockets of the rural banks and private loan institutions, the suppliers of machineries, the contractors of post-harvest facilities, and most importantly, the agro-chemical and seeds companies.

Private seed companies are the big beneficiaries of the hybrid rice program. Because of the subsidies, they get a market that they'd otherwise never have. Under the Philippines program farmers only pay half the price of the seeds and the government covers the rest, while the companies receive their money in full. Moreover, while in the beginning there was some 'healthy' competition among up to seven seed companies, including Pioneer, Bayer, some local companies, farmers cooperatives, and the government's own rice institute, soon most of the subsidies on seeds were channeled to just one company - SL Agritech.

SL Agritech, a somewhat mysterious private tie-up between Filipino, Chinese and Singapore investors, offered a much below-market price for its seeds combined with a big PR campaign. By 2006, 65% of hybrid rice seeds were produced by SL Agritech, 25% by the government and 10% by other companies (Bayer, etc). But more than market forces were at work here. The owner-chairman-CEO of SL Agritech, local billionaire Henry Lim Bon Liong, is closely connected to key government officials, such as former Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr, and was involved in crafting the hybrid rice programme. Lorenzo publicly considers him to be instrumental in acquiring the technical know-how (of hybrid rice) from China and applying it in the Philippine setting. Obviously Lorenzo's pronouncement was made to rally the support of the Filipino-Chinese community (particularly the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce that Henry Lim was then director of) around his agricultural modernization programme, and his hybrid rice efforts. For a time, Henry Lim reportedly worked as a consultant of the hybrid rice programme under Lorenzo, and then later moved on to become a member of the General Council of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD). At the moment SL Agritech is reportedly the sole authorized supplier ('preferred partner') of the hybrid rice variety accepted by Department of Agriculture officials. Going by the estimates of some farmers' organizations, SL Agritech may have already pocketed some P208 million (US$ 4.3 million) from the subsidy scheme.

Despite the subsidy, however, hybrid rice struggles to take root in the Philippines. In fact, the Department of Agriculture acknowledged in early 2006 that there was a 50-60 percent drop-out rate among farmers who adopted hybrid rice. This was based on a mid-term assessment conducted by Philrice and STRIVE Foundation. The reasons were: the hybrid rice technology is 'quite new' to farmers and 'difficult' to follow and the rice is susceptible to pests and diseases, has high cost of production and is prone to seasonal variations in yield. It was the same case two years earlier. In a 2004 study of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), a government research institute, the drop-out rate among hybrid rice adopters was found to be particularly high despite the subsidies extended by the government. The study acknowledged that the direct subsidy on seeds and fertilisers was unsustainable and recommended using other ways to support farmers. The Department of Agriculture seemed to take the recommendations to heart and began a phase-out of its subsidy that year, aiming to fully cut support in 2007. Officials at the Department of Agriculture and Philrice apparently believed that farmers successful with hybrid rice would be able to afford the seeds without subsidies.

But the policy change didn't last long. It now appears that the government is just reorganizing the subsidy scheme again. Under the guise of meeting millennium goal targets, the Department of Agriculture reconstituted its subsidy scheme by forming 'rice clusters' seemingly to have more control of hybrid rice growing in the country. Farmers will be organized 'geographically' based on a set of contiguous rice areas of about 100 hectares within one-kilometer radius in a municipality. Farmers belonging to cluster areas will be assured of technical support, and will be given greater access to credit, high quality seeds, farm machinery and fertilizer discounts. They will also be assured of water supply and access to post-harvest facilities. This approach supposedly makes the GMA rice program easier to implement, monitor and document, as it organizes individual farmers into a manageable entity (a cluster) and links them to bigger communities.

(Note: in some areas up north farmers have been told they will not get irrigation water unless they use hybrid rice.)

The GMA rice program that dispenses this subsidy envisions “a sustainable self-sufficient rice economy” – projecting a total of 16.67 million tons of total paddy production - this year (2007). But some farmers' groups are not convinced about the subsidy scheme nor about the target production for hybrid rice. Sentro Saka, a national network of farmers organizations, claims that there have been no significant reductions on the country's rice imports since the hybrid rice program was launched six years ago. In fact, for the most part, rice imports have consistently increased, this year being the highest so far, projected to be about 1.7 million metric tons. The group also claims that although the Department of Agriculture previously boasted about the GMA rice program being the answer to rice production shortages, the Department's own data shows that hybrid rice barely contributed to the overall production.
SL Agritech Corp wants subsidies until half of rice farmers in Philippines growing hybrids ...

  • Seed cost was almost 2.5 times more for hybrids than for conventional high yielding varieties.

  • The expected output price was lower for hybrid rice grain than actual price for conventional high yielding varieties.

  • The hybrid rice seed production usually requires more labor specially to accomplish certain critical farm operations like row planting, supplementary pollination, leaf clipping, gap filling, rouging and GA3 application etc. Hence the cost incurred on seed production was found to be high.

  • Hybrids require more doses of fertilizers.

  • Hybrid seed is not suitable for second crop.

DA responds to organic clamor
Unexpectedly in May 2008 the DA responded to the clamor of organic farmer groups, announcing the use of organic fertilizers to raise farm yields and reduce production costs.
Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, says the DA’s “Organikong Pagsasaka” program, with an allocation of P500 million this year, forms part of the P43.7-billion FIELDS initiative to guarantee food security. Yap admits that the use of organic fertilizers and non-chemical dependent technologies has led to better crop quality and higher yields.
Yap adds that weaning farmers away from the use of chemical inputs would lower farm production costs amid soaring prices of petroleum-based fertilizers which have increased by about 300 percent over the last five years. A bag of chemical fertilizer now costs as much as P1,900. Palay farmers usually use up to 20 bags of chemical fertilizers per cropping.
Under “Organikong Pagsasaka,” the DA introduced the Modified Rapid Composting (MRC) technology in 16 regions, according to Director Silvino Tejada of the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM). Harvest festivals in MRC techno-demo farms have already been held in Negros Occidental, Maguindanao, Quezon, Camarines Sur, Bukidnon, Eastern Samar and Iloilo, Tejada said.
Farmers that participated reported an increase of 20 percent in yields, 30-40 percent in profits, and a 30-50 percent reduction in input expenses. They also reported improvements in soil quality, and better water retention of the land which has reduced the frequency of irrigation by as much as 50 percent.
The Organikong Pagsasaka program uses locally developed organic farming techniques and farmers produce their own high-grade biofertilizers from farm wastes which they use, selling the excess.
The program, which implements Executive Order 481 titled “Promotion and Development of Organic Agriculture in the Philippines,” will first target rice, corn and vegetable farms nationwide, Tejada said.
5 nations led by Thailand agree to fix prices banners Philippine Daily Inquirer, 05/01/2008. “The countries of Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam have agreed in principle to form a rice price-fixing cartel similar to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as costs of the staple grain rocket, Thailand’s prime minister said on Wednesday. Thailand’s Premier Samak Sundaravej said the grouping of Mekong nations would be called the Organization of Rice Exporting Countries (OREC). “I have talked with Burma and invited them to join the rice exporting countries cartel, which will include Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, to fix the price,” Samak told reporters.”
Stunning news that posed some questions about the viability of this seminal OREC. While OPEC deals with a non-renewable product, OREC’s product, rice, is renewable and anyone can produce it if profitable.
Be that as it may, the lament that the Thais owe their rice growing skills from U.P. Los Baños is an embarrassing misconception. The truth about the abundance of Thai and Vietnamese rice harvests is due to the benevolence of the awesome Mekong River. The Mekong is one of the world’s major rivers, the 12th-longest river in the world. Its estimated length of 4,350 km (2,703 mi), runs from the Tibetan Plateau through China's Yunnan province, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The annual flooding of the river acts like a giant irrigation system that deposits silt on the flooded ricelands and replenishes nutrients. Contrast this natural event with man-made irrigation that supplies water devoid of nourishing silt. Imagine the Banaue rice terraces dependent only on rain water growing rice for thousands of years and the constant depletion of nutrients which now requires supplementary synthetic fertilizer and pesticides, input costs that eats profits and ensures poverty.
An IRRI economist expressing it in plain language a decade earlier said that maybe self-sufficiency requires more investment than it is worth. "Despite playing a key role in Asia’s Green Revolution," David Dawe said, "the Philippines may never attain rice sufficiency and could be better off importing cereals." He added, “self sufficiency has a cost if you want to do it and that cost is borne by the poor. Dawe said arable land is in short supply in the Philippines where only 30 percent is planted to rice. The soil itself is "more suited to growing coconuts and maize" and lacking the major river systems and rainfall patterns available for the heavily water-dependent crop in such areas as Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam. "God made that land for growing rice," Dawe said.
Manila scraps rice purchases
DA officially declared Monday's eagerly-awaited tender a failure after Vietnam's state-owned Vinafood II, the sole participant, failed to supply a bank guarantee. After consistently failing to secure the asked-for volume in recent tenders with private dealers, the government will deal exclusively with state firms and traders with government guarantees.
THE National Food Authority yesterday said government needs to buy 500,000 to 700,000.metric tons of rice (on top of already bought 1.7 million metric tons) to augment the country’s buffer stocks for the typhoon season
NFA says the country has a 64-day stock, both government and household, the government stock of 770,000 tons is good for 23 days and 1.7 million metric tons have been contracted from imports, enough for the lean months of July to September.
Corporate farming

She said corporations without landholdings but which decide to engage in rice production may lease public agricultural lands. Those intending to import rice for their employees tell the NFA to be eligible for "fiscal privileges."
Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, head of the CBCP’s public affairs committee, said he was not discounting the possibility of "irregularities" in Arroyo’s decision to scrap public bidding procedures in favor of government-to-government negotiations in rice importation.
Bureau of Agricultural Statistics 2007 data for a crude roadmap to rice self-sufficiency: “Palay” (unhusked rice) production was 16,240,000 metric tons. At a milling rate of 65 percent, rice produced was 10,556,000 metric tons. Out of this, 2.0 percent was used as seeds and 10.5 percent was lost in processing. As a result, only 9,237,000 metric tons reached the dinner table.
Rice consumption per capita was about 120 kilograms. At a population of 87 million, the total consumption was 10,440,000 metric tons. The shortfall of over 1,200,000 metric tons was covered by importation. A beginning inventory of 2,000,000 metric tons served as buffer stock.
Hectares planted to rice totaled 4,277,889 (2,917,012 irrigated, 1,356,877 rain-fed). Palay production was about 3.8 metric tons per hectare nationwide.
In the global context, food is a complex political issue and quick fixes are not enough. Without a long-term plan that takes a bold stand against the trade distortions that have contributed to the crisis, any action will just be placebo pill. Continuous food crises will be the new global norm unless the international community works together to find fair and sustainable solutions to tackle the root causes of global food insecurity.
As for Filipinos, accept the fact that our agriculture cannot produce enough rice to feed our population , and that U.P.Los Baños is no Ceres. Unless we intend to use starvation as the primary policy to control population growth, Filipinos must act aggressively to reform agriculture, starting modestly with AFMA. Food, the fundamental determinant of health, IS life.


Tongue's Wrath said...

Wow, Kumpleto sa recado. I'm sure some kid will plagiarize your post to be submitted to their teachers. Great post, Orly!

orly_habari said...

orly said ...
Tongue, thanks.
Local schools could use a bit of pizzazz, so if some kid borrows the material in part or the whole monte, he has my blessing. After all, imitation is a sincere form of flattery. It may even improve his English proficiency.

Tongue's Wrath said...

Or that will give him away.