Our rice farmers need more than just incentives, but genuine change in agriculture
Official Statement of Agro-Eco Philippines on Rice Tariffication Law
6 September 2019
The Filipino rice farmers, one of the poorest sectors in the economy, have been expecting significant reforms from the government with its “tunay na pagbabago” mantra but what they are experiencing now is the opposite of what they are hoping for.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act 11203 or Rice Tariffication Law on Valentine’s Day of 2019 with the intention of ending rice smuggling and solving the increasing price of rice, by flooding the local markets with imported rice. Rhetoric from his economic managers and cabinet secretaries filled the media outlets and mesmerized the people who hoped for positive changes. But we all know now that the opposite is happening, badly affecting the toiling farmers who works hard to produce our staple food.
The passage of the law may be in compliance to our country’s commitment to international trade agreements, but with a high incidence of poverty and hunger that majority of the farmers are facing now, which is further aggravated by the impacts of climate change on agriculture, passing the Rice Tariffication Law is counterproductive to the farmers.
Few months after its implementation, the farm gate price of unmilled rice has dropped to a record-low of 7.00 pesos per kilo from the previous 18-20 pesos while the price milled rice sold in the markets still remains at 38-50 pesos per kilo. Eloquent explanations no matter how convincing it is to the ears cannot hide the situation of the rice farmers who felt neglected, suffered a heavy blow, and extremely dismayed over the government’s move.
It’s absurd to think about that an agricultural country where rice is the staple food of its people is allowing this problem to prevail. It’s unacceptable to imagine that sooner or later we would be dependent from Thailand, Vietnam and China because RA 11203 is chocking our local rice farmers to death.
It can never be a sign of modernization either to see rice fields converted into subdivisions, displacing the farmers and their families, and allowing golden rice and other GMO crops to contaminate our diverse plant genetic resources.
Under this law, a 10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) is allotted from tariff (tax from imported rice) to provide assistance and incentives to the affected farmers. But the sub-programs under RCEF are just recycled old programs like provision of commercial seeds, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and loan package of 15,000 pesos per hectare offers no significant remedies at all. Rice farmers are very aware that these kind of programs have all failed over and over again since the time of Masagana 99, not to mention issues of corruption and inefficient implementation. It also resulted to the increased of the production costs which made the farmers to be heavily indebted to the usurers, many of whom are rice traders.
If we go to the communities and talk to the farmers they will tell us straight to the face that this scheme is one of the major reasons why most farming families can’t move away from the chain of poverty even if they wanted to and prayed for. The measures under RCEF will only exacerbate genetic erosion, biodiversity loss, greenhouses gasses emission and climate change. Clearly, the farmers have more to lose than to gain from these.
Agroecolgy is the way
We join the rice farmers and the public in calling for the scrapping of Rice Tariffication Law while we are also working hard implementing agroecology with the farmers, CSOs and LGUs. But what agroecology actually means to the farmers? In a laymen’s term, agroecology is about diversification of crops, integrating livestock in it, harnessing local resources, processing and selling farmer’s produce directly to the consumers, policy reforms, and strengthening a circular economy at the local level – feeding, employing and creating more economic opportunities for the local people in a sustainable and just manner. It is an advanced state of organic agriculture.
This approach has already increased the income and improved the livelihood of about 200 organic farmer’s organizations in Mindanao, Visayas and Luzon. The case of the rice-based farmer’s organizations like BUSAFO in Mlang, North Cotabato; MMM in Molave, Zamboanga Del Sur; BCSFAI in Banaybanay, Davao Oriental; MAFO in Banga, South Cotabato; TSAFO in Malitbog, Bukidnon; MUFASA in Alegria, Surigao Del Norte; and SOFA in Sta. Josefa, Agusan Del Sur and the increasing no. of organizations in Leyte, Samar, Bohol, Mindoro, Casiguran, Aurora and Infanta, Quezon are some of the concrete examples of its unquestionable success that government should look into.
The 140 member LGUs of the League of Organic Agriculture Municipalities, Cities and Provinces (LOAMCP) are taking agroecology more seriously, extending their hands to collaborate with the Department of Agriculture. And no less than the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations are strongly recommending agroecology as the way forward. Development like this is a clear indicator that local governments, international organizations and increasing no. of countries are moving away from the conventional agriculture paradigm from which the central idea behind the Rice Tariffication and RCEF is built upon.
Embarking on a so-called solution that only gives more opportunities to the foreign traders and their local partners at the expense of the Filipino farmers is not a solution at all. And eliminating rice smuggling by legalizing the unrestricted entry of imported rice is like pouring gasoline to a fire.
There are more better, effective and sustainable solutions to our rice problems which won’t jeopardize our local rice farmers. Those farmers, CSOs and LGUs who are already engaged in these are more than willing to work with the government. But this would not be made possible without the acceptance, seriousness, strong support, policy reforms, and sustainability on the part of the government.
As Filipinos, we support the goal of the national government to eliminate hunger and poverty, and we urge its line agencies to strengthen the National Organic Agriculture Program under RA 10068, land reform, training and extension work. But we do not support the Rice Tariffication Law and we can’t be silent on this issue while 2 million rice farmers out there are on the brink of losing their livelihood when there are actually more effective solutions that remains disregarded and under-supported.
Geonathan T. Barro