The rice crisis

Posted: April 4, 2008 in Socio-Political
Tags: , , ,

A lot has been said on the current rice crisis. For one thing, the government refuses to admit that there is one. On the other hand, prices have been going up. Even Jollibee (gasp) has raised prices of some of its items. The usual NFA rice costs P18.25/kilo but the NFA rice from the US costs P25/kilo. Wonder what they put in the US rice that makes it much more expensive? Oh yeah, US rice is subsidized by US government by the way , so if we keep importing subsidized rice, we’re in effect actually the ones paying for the subsidy. Galing di ba?

Here’s the gist of the problem.

There might not be enough domestically produced rice and imported rice to meet the needs of the people in the short and medium term. The Philippines is not 100% rice self-sufficient, and government will admit to this. That’s why we have resorted to the quick fix known as rice importation. But all is not well in the world market and the rice exporting countries are facing problems of their own. Vietnam for example is suffering from the effects of land conversion and their rice supply will become tight eventually. They would rather use it for their own consumption than export. Big problem for the Philippines if we can’t import enough rice to meet the demands of our people. Heck, even China needs to import rice now! That’s almost 1.3 billion rice-eating folks.

So what does the government do?

Like all previous problems, the government first denies that there is indeed a problem.

And they embark on several short term solutions that hopefully, when they take effect, would make the public forget that there ever was a problem to begin with.

One suggestion was to eat kamote instead of rice. Great. We’d like to see the bright boys in Malacanang take the lead in this. Kamote Republic, that’s what they want us to be.

Another suggestion was to provide half-servings of rice at fast food joints. Seems ok, but it’s really a non-solution to the more fundamental problem.

Still another suggestion was to import more rice and even lower the tariffs so that the selling price at the market wouldn’t be so high.

The government’s main tact in addressing the rice issue is to import more rice. And even if imports are getting more expensive, we can always lower tariffs, even is this would be bad for the economy. Tariffs are there to begin with, to protect domestic farmers from the dumping of imported rice. Lowering tariffs to lower import costs will artificially push down domestic rice prices and our local farmers will suffer. They’d be forced to sell their products at a much lower price to compete with the imported rice.

The crux of the matter is food self-sufficiency. Our capacity to produce has been hampered, nay, damaged severely, by globalization policies. Land-use conversion and export of raw materials in demand by the world market has threatened food security because less land is being used for planting rice. We’re planting exportable crops instead of planting the food we need to eat.

Now for the land that’s used for planting rice, there is very low productivity. Why? Because of the semi-feudal set up hinders any productivity. It mires farmers deep in debt and exploitation. There’s no incentive or no conditions to develop production, as is the case with any feudal set up.

With the backwardness of the agriculture set up of the country, and with the conditions of dominance of big land lords and comprador businesses, and with the absence of strong government intervention, agri production, including supply, is easily controlled by a few. It is vulnerable to control by a cartel.

We end up in a situation wherein there will always be a “shortage” because we’re not self reliant. And even with the limited supply that we have, it is still controlled by the cartel, thus the prices are high. Meanwhile,  the government prioritizes importation over domestic production.

The quick fix of importation might work for the next two months, but we ask, will this be enough for the long term? Wouldn’t it be wiser to develop domestic production so that at least we would be self-reliant when it comes to rice supply? Wouldn’t it be better to let loose the productive powers of our farmers by dismantling the feudal and semi-feudal set up in the countryside that has bound the farmers to a life of debt and poverty?

Alas, the government’s response, like in the problem of extrajudicial killings, has more to do with public relations than addressing the roots of the problem.

We were joking last night that the current situation has all the signs of the 80’s crisis. There’s the rice crisis. There’s the oil crisis. And there’s the return of Gabby Concepcion.  hehe.

Government should be very afraid of the people when the sh*t hits the fan. The people’s patience has been wearing thin.

I am reminded of an excerpt from an old Bob Marley song called “Them belly full but we’re hungry”.

Them belly full, but we hungry;
A hungry mob is a angry mob.
A rain a-fall, but the dirt it tough;
A yot a-yook, but d’ yood no ‘nough.

Cost of livin’ gets so high,
Rich and poor they start to cry:

Now the weak must get strong;
They say, “Oh, what a tribulation!”
Them belly full, but we hungry;
A hungry mob is a angry mob.
A rain a-fall, but the dirt it tough;
A pot a-yook, but d’ yood* no ‘nough.

  1. lea says:

    well said, nice quote. it may help to relate the rice shortage issue with the impact of environmental/climate change problems, all of which are related to the consequences of imposing neo-liberal globalization on the whole world order. ‘hope you can post something that discusses this ty

  2. thomasianprogressives says:

    Ayaw kasi aminin na may crisis sa bigas e. Makakain na nga lang ng Mais baka gumaling pa ako magboxing, mag ala-pacquiao pa ako hehe

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