THERE is a meme persistently floating on social media, juxtaposing the cost of a kilo of rice bought from farmers and a fastfood serving of a cup of rice—the former at P15.50 and the latter at P22. That’s one image capturing the ironies of the rice situation in the country.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto had called on the Department of Agriculture to look into the alarming drop in the price of locally grown rice. We are in a situation, Recto said, where a kilo of rice, reportedly at P12, is now cheaper than a Covid-19 mask. If this is the case, our farmers would rather opt to be “plantitos” and “plantitas,” knowing that the selling of ornamental plants is more profitable. That this isn’t a far-fetched option makes it not funny at all. Imagine the loss and impact it will have on food production. At a time and spirit when the rice tariff law is envisioned to boost local agriculture.
Which is what Recto wants the DA to check, if the falling farmgate price of unhusked rice is an adverse effect of the tariffication law. The policy has opened the market to imported rice from Vietnam and Thailand, two of the more successful rice producers in the region that are backed by government subsidies.
Philippine Statistics Authority data show a downtrend in the first week of September, quite the opposite in the same period last year, which showed a accelerated increase.
Farmers’ organizations have aired their concerns, saying that at the rate that unhusked rice is selling, farmers could not even defray the cost of labor and production.
To address this alarming drop in the selling price, the DA had enjoined local governments to go on a local rice buying spree. The LGUs’ commitment to buy their constituents’ palay would certainly help elevate the price.
While our agencies attempt to rescue our farmers amid the unfortunate price drop in the short haul, perhaps a more thorough study on the possibility of a structural reform in the country’s agricultural economics and policies.
To perpetually leave the rice market according to the whims of supply and demand, we have seen, have almost always tilted the balance against the farmers. Almost always we see that the instability had put them at a disadvantage. Must we create laws that put a threshold on buying price as a safety measure for the farmers, to ensure that even as the market moves, cost and profit are secured for their survival? Can we streamline rice production the way we are reforming public transport via the jeepney modernization program in which we require the sector to organize into cooperatives to level up operations? If government pushes mechanization, will it not create another adverse toll on the cost of maintenance?
Time and again, it seems that the farmers are always at the losing end in the shifting nature of rice trade in this country. The pattern shows a repeated fooling around on the fate of our farmers.