AS GOV’T HOLDS FOOD SUMMIT : REVERSE RP’S DEPENDENCE ON FOOD IMPORTS, THINK-TANK URGES

The Philippines has become too dependent on food importation to make up for its shortfalls in domestic production and should reverse this trend, says independent think-tank IBON Foundation as the Department of Agriculture opens its Food Summit today.

“Importation should only be a short-term solution to supply shortages, “ said IBON executive editor Rosario Bella Guzman.

“In the long-term the government must make the country self-sufficient in the production of its staple foods such as rice, not just to guarantee that Filipinos have enough to eat without relying on foreign markets, but also to ensure sustainable development.”

According to data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, the country imported 808,000 metric tons (MT) of rice in 2001, or 10% of total rice disposable of 8.1 million MT. By 2006, imports had grown to 1.7 million MT or 17% of total rice disposable of 10.3 million MT.

As the Department of Agriculture made a positive step of raising the buying price of palay to P17 per kilogram from P12, it should ensure that traders do not translate this to unreasonably higher prices of commercial rice.

Government should also allocate more funds for buying from local farmers, said Guzman. If the P5 billion announced by Pres. Arroyo were used, it would only buy some 300,000 MT– less than one percent of the expected production this year of 7.2 million MT of palay.

If the estimated P62 billion that would be used this year for imports were allocated for local procurement, the NFA could purchase from farmers 3.6 million MT of palay. Aside from benefiting local farmers, this would also help NFA address the issue of hoarding by unscrupulous rice traders.

“The Food Summit should focus on such urgent measures that will help improve our local producers,” said Guzman. “The country’s experience since the 1990s clearly shows that importation has only terribly worsened the country’s self-sufficiency in food.”

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