Bantay Bigas: Guarding our Rice Industry
July 7, 2011
AGRICULTURE remains a big challenge for the country as numbers from the
Bureau of Agricultural Statistics show that corn and palay production
contracted last year. From producing as much as 16.8 million metric tons
(MT) of palay in 2008, we now only have around 15.8 million MT production
for last year. The same thing happened in corn output last year where the
total production has gone down by 9.34 percent from 7.0 million MT in 2009
to only 6.3 million MT in 2010. Palay production is on the decline for two
consecutive years already.
There are a host of reasons that are cited for the drop in crop output.
One is the impacts of climate change and the vulnerability of our
agricultural sector to both drought and rainfall. There is of course the
unabated land conversion for residential, commercial and industrial land
use and the replacement of staple food crops with high-valued crops. These
crops are grown mostly for export markets.
On top of these are the problematic policies of the government with regard
to agrarian reform and food security such as depending on importing rice
to fill in the production gap. The Philippines has been one of the top
importers of rice in the past few years.
Last month, representatives of farmers’ organizations, cooperatives, rice
millers, irrigators’ associations, suppliers and consumers joined together
in a meeting to discuss the problems in rice production in the country.
Led by Bantay Bigas, the meeting, called the National People’s Rice
Congress, was held at the National Irrigation Administration’s Convention
Hall last February 8, 2011. The goal of the Rice Congress was to
strengthen the Philippine rice industry to ensure that the country becomes
100 percent rice self-sufficient in the next few years.
The groups presented the highlights of the event to Department of
Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala on February 9, 2011. Anakpawis
Party List Representative Rafael V. Ma-riano shared the points of unities
that the delegates of the meeting and Secretary Alcala gave a commitment
that National Food Authority (NFA) Council will study the recommendations
of Bantay Bigas.
Bantay Bigas has been conducting series of dialogues with the NFA on the
determination of a reasonable palay and rice prices since 2009. Its
spokesperson Lita Mariano pointed out the urgency of restoring the NFA
subsidy of P 8 billion and increasing the palay procurement budget of the
NFA to at least P 15 billion. She also reiterated the urgent demand of
farmers and consumers to bring back to the market the P 18.25 per kilo NFA
Some of the policy actions that are recommended by the Rice Congress are
adequate budget for agricultural production and to give subsidies in
particular to the grains industry. These should include production
subsidies, seeds and organic fertilizers subsidies and improved services
and facilities in the production chain. On top of these, the NFA should
have the capacity to procure at least a quarter of the total palay
production of Filipino farmers.
Modern tools and machinery for planting, harvesting, and processing of
rice should be made available to improve and increase total rice
production in the country. This should be coupled with the immediate
development and improvement of agricultural infrastructure especially for
irrigation for palay production. The congress also reiterated that
irrigation fees should be reasonable, affordable or subsidized by the
national government. They also recommended that water for irrigation
should be prioritized especially in times of drought.
Recognizing the role of women farm workers in the rice production, the
congress also asked for mechanisms that will support and enhance women’s
significant role in the rice industry both as producers and consumers. The
congress also stressed that locally adapted rice varieties should be fully
utilized in rice production and these should be protected from biopiracy
and private appropriation. Farmer’s rights over the seeds should be
recognized. Local seed exchange and seed banks should be encouraged and
The delegates pointed out that these suggestions should be done
simultaneously while the government reverses its deregulation,
liberalisation and privatization policies in the grains industry. Public
sector unions who joined the Rice Congress said that these privatization
policies are in the form of the so-called “decoupling”, “rationalization”,
“re-engineering” and restructuring of the NFA and other related agencies.
Land conversion should also be stopped according to the delegates such as
the encroachment of mining and other industrial projects in agricultural
While these suggestions may be easily done, a longer perspective to
solving the rice crisis should also be taken into account. There is the
long-running problem of landlessness in the country. This should be one of
the top priorities of the government should it want to spur our
agricultural output. The bills filed at the Philippine House of
Representatives, House Bill 374, also known as the Genuine Agrarian Reform
Act of 2010 and House Bill 3105 or the Rice Industry Development Act are
steps in the right direction.
Ms. Finesa Cosico
Ms. Cosico is an agriculturist for AGHAM-Advocates of Science and
Technology for the People. She finished her entomology at the UP in Los
Science for the
people (2): food security and self-sufficiency
July 3, 2009
Reports nearly a month ago announced the news that the number of hungry
people has reached more than a billion people in the world. In the
Philippines, recent surveys reflected the effect of the economic downturn
on the unemployed, with nearly 17 percent going hungry in the first
quarter of this year. Our people have been chronically undernourished and
this situation has reached crisis levels (officially) in last year’s rice
Yet why are we unable to produce the food that we need? Why do our people
teeter on the brink of going hungry everyday? What can scientists do in
this situation? Continuing our series on what role scientists and
engineers play in our society, we shall discuss today the issue of food
security and self-sufficiency.
We start with history. Our capacity to produce food for our own needs and
to ensure that each one has enough nutrition to live comfortably (food
self-sufficency and security, respectively) has been destroyed since we
were colonized by Spain and the United States. Spain rearranged
traditional agricultural production patterns into en-comiendas and then
later into haciendas leading to monocrop agriculture geared for export.
The United States maintained this situation and later instituted unequal
treaties that led to the current export-oriented and import-dependent
agriculture system that we have. Farm implements and inputs are mainly
imported while production is geared for the needs of the so-called world
market. Sugar, abaca, tobacco and rice are but a few of these export
With our accession to the World Trade Organization Agreement on
Agriculture in 1995, the Philippines incurred a total agricultural trade
deficit of $3.5 billion in its first five years, compared to a $1.69
billion surplus in the previous period. From 1995 to 1999, the country
exported 8.25 million tons of banana, pineapple and mango, but had to
import 4.74 million tons of rice and 1.18 million tons of corn just to
meet the barest of domestic necessities.
This continued dependence on imported food shows the food insecurity of
our people. What perpetuates this situation is the continuing lack of
control of local food producers—our farmers—over resources such as land,
seeds, fertilizer and other agricultural equipment.
In order to achieve food security and self-sufficiency, control and
ownership of land must be given back to the farmers. Farmers and the
Filipino people must have decisive control over the agricultural
production system to ensure food security and sufficiency and as opposed
to the current production pattern which is mainly dependent on the whims
of “market forces” and the profiteering of traders and big landlords.
This situation calls not merely for a technological fix as the Green
Revolution in the 1960s and the so-called Gene Revolution of the past
decade tried to do. These fixes would not work on its own without a
corresponding change in the socio-political relations that perpetuated the
problem in the first place. Introducing blindly these technological fixes
would only aggravate existing social inequities while alienating the very
people it purports to give benefit to.
With landlords controlling large tracts of agricultural lands, there is
little room for development, as they would rather impose worse
produce-sharing ratios, which leaves our poor farmers deeper and deeper in
their debt. To be able to ensure that we can feed our nation, there is a
great need to break the unequal landlord-farmer relationship. This
relationship is based on the control of land.
Pending bills in Congress, such as the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill or
GARB, seeks to address this situation. Genuine land reform entails
complete control of farmers over the land they till without the oppressive
land-rent system. In addition to this, there should be a simultaneous
national plan for domestic food production along with directed research
and subsidy to support production.
A national food security and self-sufficiency plan includes true
development efforts to improve farmlands physically, mechanization of
farming processes, agricultural research and extension and prioritization
of food production for national consumption. Equally important would be
the provision of agricultural assistance such as farm credits, knowledge
transfer, infrastructures, farm equipments, and agricultural inputs.
Farmer organizations and cooperatives are necessary to facilitate the
needed assistance to improve well-being of the peasants.
Working with existing farmer organizations and cooperatives,
agriculturists and well-meaning scientists can directly bring their
discoveries to them. AGHAM currently helps communities in this way. Yet
one should also realize that this is a short term solution as long term
food security and self-sufficiency would be contingent on genuine land
Furthermore, as agriculture can provide raw materials for industries and a
market for its products as well, there is a need to develop it within
plans for national industrialization so that design and manufacturing of
machines and facilities fulfills the requirements of a self-sufficient and
secured food production and distribution.
Ma. Finesa Cosico
Ms. Cosico is an entomologist and a member of AGHAM