Calming The Waters
Events of the recent weeks had given us some jolting reality checks about domestic food situation, especially on rice supply availability. Whereas, we were lulled into a belief that we can always source rice production shortfall by importing, now we realize that supply is limited and can disappear from the world market, there being no country willing to let go of their rice stock. While it has always been profitable for NFA to import rice, this was not so anymore.
The percentage of rice being traded is less than 10% of total production, and that our country has been tagged as the world’s biggest importer of rice. Any hold-out decision of an exporting country can have negative repercussions in the supply being traded.
And our agri-scientists and members of the agri-academe cannot help but shake their heads on the many reasons why we are not able to produce enough rice from our fields.
From a low 500,000 metric tons we imported in the last years of martial law of the ’80s, our rice imports had topped to nearing 2.0 million metric tons in recent years. Simply stated, our consumption outpaced our ability to produce rice.
Many reasons have been brought to the table, as in the low investment flow to support the needed growth in production. The reduction of agri-budget from a high of 7.5% of government spending in the 1970s and early ’80s, to 3.3% in 1988, resulted in the gradual slowdown and erosion in the support given to produce enough food for local populace.
The high investment in the agrisectors during the Marcos regime resulted in a year that we were able to be self sufficient in rice, and did a “ceremonial” rice export.
There is no quick fix to the situation we are in. Agricultural development is a long gestating process. This is not an industrial process that can be measured in exact output from given inputs. Productivity issues must be resolved and policy directions must be in place over the long haul to put into sync developmental programs on the ground and not be subjected to changes in the administration of the bureaucracy.
The years of central control on planning and implementation are long gone. The resulting re-structuring of local government units with the devolution of government line functions must come into play and be inputted in the planning process.
And as I have always advocated, plans from the bureaucracy must be in agreement with local government units as they are the closest to the ground and can quickly implement, at their levels programs that will address the needs of their constituency.
A typical program as the distribution of fertilizers and seeds can best be handled at the local level.
While ideal conditions or standards may be difficult to attain, the success and the capability of local executives are best gauged by the intended
beneficiaries as they live and stay in the targeted area.
The working relationship between the agri-bureaucracy and local government should be maintained over the years to create further understanding and agreements. The services of local executives are there and existing and waiting to be tapped and harnessed for cooperative efforts.
This is also true in the infrastructure and other developmental projects for agriculture.
Outright allocation of funds for quick, high impact food production projects is appreciated and is a step in the right direction to calm the anxieties and apprehension of consumers. But this should be complimented with real and sincere efforts to provide farmers and agri-businessmen long term security in their up-stream and down-stream investments.
Typical of these is the issue of corn importation. Whenever farmers are able to sell their corn at higher prices, the issue of importation comes up, in the guise of making meat products affordable to ultimate consumers. A delicate balance should be arrived at, and if ever, there is a difficult decision to make, the agri-bureaucracy must side with their identified constituentsthe agri-producer.
Then again, talks were up in the air for a possible price control which is a populist solution, bereft of sound economic reasons. As in the issue of rice hoarding, price manipulation, and cartels.
While press and photo releases and positive statements are being bandied about in the media to assuage the feelings and perceptions of consumers, it will be of lasting effect if the political will to invest in agriculture will be flexed to the limit.
Ask any of our agri-scientists (and we have plenty, with international recognition in their respective fields) and believe in what they say. Pick a workable solution and we can be out of this hole and swim in calm waters.
And why not?