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Prices go up up and away!

The first to suffer from the continuing price hike of oil and gasoline is agriculture and the poor farmers, who comprise most of the country’s population. Prices of staple foods like rice, fish, and vegetables continue to go up, up and away. The food producers themselves - the farmers and fisherfolks -- are hardest hit.

Last week, oil companies raised prices by P1.90 per liter for gasoline, P1.50 per liter for diesel, and P2.50 per liter for kerosene. I felt luckier to have a full tank pumped up a week before. Immediately after, the cost of rice and grains, along with other agricultural and agricultural-based products like pork, chicken, beef, and flour, shot up. Around the corner of each barangay in Camarines Sur and elsewhere in Bicol, the lowest price of rice is P40 per kilo on average, to P80 (red rice). According to the local rice cooperative, there will be a P4 per kilo increase until the mid-September palay harvest as the price of palay continues to rise. The price of chicken soared by 30% and now costs P200 per kilo since last year. With the opening of classes, prices of school supplies have become more prohibitive.

These times, inflation, food importation, and shortage are becoming the regular fare. With the continued price hikes, transport groups have already petitioned for a fare increase. Added to the fuel excise tax, fare cost is a nightmare for the low-income sector.

At the 2024 budget deliberations last August 22, Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian admitted before Congress members that it’s not part of the agency’s plans and roadmap to reduce the retail price of rice to P20, the much-hyped election promise of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who also heads the DA. In the grueling questioning, an embarrassed USec Sebastian also admitted that imported rice, the government’s response to rice shortage, now costs higher, a bane for farmers and consumers alike.

The Philippine Development Plan for 2023-2028, which is the basis of the Bicol Regional Development Plan, hopes to reduce poverty from 29.3% in 2021 to 18% in 2027 and achieve economic transformation. “It is a plan for deep economic and social transformation to reinvigorate job creation and accelerate poverty reduction by steering the economy back on a high-growth path. This growth must be inclusive, building an environment that provides equal opportunities to all Filipinos through innovation and entrepreneurship. It reiterates the vision to have a “matatag, maginhawa and panatag na buhay” drawn up during the past Duterte government to continue across four administrations in the AmBisyon Natin 2040 program. It boasts of a plan well-aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The PDP calls for sound agricultural development through a holistic agri-food system. But this early, we see the writings on the wall. Is there a way out of the cycle of endless price hikes?

Boost agriculture and industry

A progressive newbie in agriculture asks: how can the country move up and develop if the food producers themselves are hard up in even producing for their own families? They need critical farm support and assistance. Price regulation and adjustment in monetary policy alone cannot address inflation.

Major reforms may start by developing the agriculture sector with an actual economic stimulus program for the millions of farmers around the country. The majority are landless or without land to till. Land reform should be implemented well and thoroughly, ensuring that farming families have land to till and grow their food to help ensure self-sufficiency and food security. A well-fed farming sector can feed the country equally as well.

The DA and DTI can adopt a policy in price system that favors agriculture and the farmers in terms of trade between industry and agriculture: to keep prices low for agricultural equipment and fertilizer by helping provide subsidies while raising the prices for agricultural produce, which the DA purchases from the farmers. Full support for organic farming, greater access to efficient irrigation and storage facilities, and solarization of production will reduce environmental impact and ease rice production. More programs for soil conservation methods, such as contour planting and vermiculture development, will help reduce levels of soil erosion during heavy rains or floods, which is an increasing concern due to climate change.

Why not pour more support for agri-based manufacturing and industrialization in the provinces and rural areas so that more families are involved and engaged? The ongoing Social Enterprise Development (SED) project of the CHEd with Mariners Polytechnic Colleges/Foundation, Central Bicol State University in Agroculture, and Tabang Bikol Movement shows that income growth among the farmers or the rural folks helps in reducing poverty because the incidence of poverty is higher in agricultural and rural populations and most of the poor live in rural areas where a large share of them depend on the cities and urban areas for jobs.

Maybe, it is also time to review and repeal the Rice Tariffication Act (RTA) signed in 2019 to reduce the price of rice and supposedly help farmers with the removal of quantitative restrictions on imported rice would hurt. Why not? Nothing to lose, everything to gain.


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