News Release February 12, 2018, Bantay Bigas
Ensuring the country’s food security is the state’s responsibility to its people. However, instead of increasing local palay production and boosting NFA’s local palay procurement, Duterte, like his predecessors chose to depend on importation without a second thought, Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estavillo said in a press conference today in Quezon City.
According to the rice watch group, the country’s reliance on importation is bound by the provisions of the World Trade Organization Agreement on Agriculture (WTO-AoA) which the government passively follows despite its damages to local agriculture, especially on the farmers’ livelihood.
The impending tariffication of rice imports in place of the quantitative restriction (QR) which has ended in June 2017 is one among the duties that the government has to implement due to its WTO membership, Estavillo said.
However, the lifting of volume restriction will serve as death warrant to rice farmers livelihood and to the backward local rice industry, Estavillo added.
For her part, Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women chairperson Zen Soriano said that the rice price hike is already taking its toll on peasant families.
Most farmers earn barely enough due to the high cost of production. Almost every peso spent in rice production as well as the family’s basic needs are from lending and microfinancing institutions. Peasant women are forced to borrow money from such institutions; many depend on two or three of those just to meet the needs of their families. Ang kababaihang magbubukid, nagungutang para may ipambayad ng utang. Ang mga magsasaka nagiging magsasako na lang pagkatapos ng anihan sa dami ng binabayaran, Soriano said.
Soriano added that importation will not solve but will only make the crisis of the local rice industry worse, especially that imported rice arrives in the country in time for the harvest season. The government is willing to spend billions for private traders but not for its local farmers who have long been calling to uphold the mandate of the NFA.
The peasant women group said that the long-term solution to ensure the country’s food security is to implement a genuine agrarian reform program, provide appropriate support services, stop land use conversion of agricultural lands and veer away from neoliberal policies.
Bantay Bigas on the other hand, welcomed Anakpawis Partylist’s House Resolution 1676 which seeks to investigate the shortage of NFA rice and support for the increase of local palay procurement instead of importation. The group also called for legislation that would push for the development of the local rice industry.
The group called on the public to be vigilant on the issues concerning rice importation and food security. They vowed to intensify their campaigns against importation and liberalization of agriculture to advance the attainment of safe, sufficient and affordable food in the country. ###