The plight of Filipino farmers

OVP Spokesperson Ibarra “Barry” Gutierrez makes a response to the Facebook Post of DA Secretary Manny Piñol Regarding the High Price of Rice: SECRETARY Manny Piñol is being deliberately misleading when he claims, in a Facebook post, that the Vice President does not care for the plight of Filipino farmers. To begin with, Secretary Piñol anchors his tirade on a wrong premise: that the VP said that the average Filipino family consumes 40 kilos of rice PER WEEK. If the good Secretary had actually bothered to watch the VP’s press conference last Tuesday, and not simply relied on Facebook memes, he should be aware that the VP very clearly stated that the average family rice consumption is 10 kilos per week or 40 kilos PER MONTH. Considering that the bulk of his argument revolves around this erroneous fact, Secretary Piñol could have saved himself a lot of trouble had he taken the time to verify the accuracy of his information before going on his ill-advised rant. Another point where Secretary Piñol is being less than forthright is in his assumption that higher rice prices translate to higher farmer incomes. Given his position, he should be acutely aware that the bulk of earnings from every kilo of rice do not go to the farmers but to middlemen. It is precisely this situation where farmers are forced to sell to middlemen at farmgate prices much lower than how much they are sold at the market, that has kept many of them in poverty. In fact, high prices of commercial rice are a direct result of the failure of the National Food Authority (NFA) to maintain adequate buffer stocks of rice, which has led to problems in the availability of cheaper NFA rice in the market. The NFA is mandated to keep a 15-day buffer stock, 30-day for lean months, at all times to ensure that they have the capacity to prevent commercial rice prices from skyrocketing. This has not been met in recent months because of failure to import rice at the appropriate time. The buffer stock has lowered to less than four days, at one point, which allowed commercial rice prices to increase because of the lack of a cheap alternative. If Secretary Piñol knows the Vice President at all, he should be fully aware that from the beginning of her career in public service, she has worked closely with the underprivileged sectors, which include farmer groups. The VP has pursued numerous initiatives to increase farmer incomes. As a Congresswoman, among her many projects was to spearhead the studies related to the Partnerships Against Hunger and Poverty (PAHP). Under the VP’s Angat Buhay, various programs to support farmers have been brought to far flung communities, with the assistance of private sector partners, in the absence of government support. Among her recommendations to address the on-going problem, the Vice President has called on government to study giving an additional 2 peso subsidy for the local procurement of palay. This will increase the buying price of palay from 17 pesos to 19 pesos, making it almost as competitive to the private sector and possibly increasing the NFA buffer stock through domestic purchases. Another option, is studying replacing the current system of Quantitative Restrictions on rice imports with tariffs, in order to bring down the cost of rice for all sectors of society. By putting a 35% tariff on rice imports we will be able to lower the price of rice by as much as 8 pesos per kilo. Considering that a substantial portion of a typical Filipino family’s household expense goes to rice, this will certainly ease the daily burden of our countrymen including farmers. Additional revenue from this tariff should also be used to help rice farmers. The revenue should be earmarked for training interventions and other support services on matters critical for improving their production and ultimately increasing their income such as planting different cash crops, intercropping, and access to financing and technology. Still, at the end of the day, this issue should transcend politics. We are, therefore, open to meeting with Secretary Piñol on this issue to find better ways to serve the famer sector and the public. This will also be an opportunity for the Vice President to bring to light the concerns of those, on the ground, which we previously communicated to the Department of Agriculture in the more than 34 letters we sent the past two years.