Farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) insisted that aside from the recovery package for farmers and fisher folks, the Duterte administration must immediately allocate P30B production subsidy to boost the local rice industry as rice imports are expected to dwindle in the coming months amid the COVID pandemic, putting local supply in peril.
“Situations such as this are precisely what we have been wanting to avoid in our decades-long struggle for food self-reliance and against import dependence. Any nation cannot simply entrust their own basic staples to foreign countries. Now more than ever, we need to reverse decades of neoliberal destruction of the local agriculture and quickly ramp up our capacity to produce local rice and food for local consumption,” KMP Chairman Emeritus Rafael Mariano explains. Rehabilitation efforts after the lockdown must also prioritize long-term food security.
Vietnam announced on Friday that it will suspend exporting its rice to give priority to its local needs. The move was made while the global demand for rice and other food products is on the rise as nations scramble to ensure food security amid a pandemic.
Provide production subsidy on top of emergency cash assistance
Mariano says that in order to make sure that Filipinos will have rice to eat in the coming months, at least P30 billion must be urgently allocated to boost local rice production. “The local rice industry was just recently devastated by the Rice Liberalization Law which enabled the unlimited and over importation of rice. At least P15,000 worth of production subsidy must be provided for more than 2 million rice farmers, amounting to at least P30 billion. The government can easily get this from the P275 billion fund dedicated for COVID response,” Mariano says.
KMP proposes a combination of urgent cash assistance and production subsidies to assist farmers affected by the pandemic and the lockdown while also ensuring the continued production of food and other agricultural products made more necessary by the health crisis.
The former Agrarian Reform secretary insists that in order to ensure yields, an irrigation development program must be rigorously pursued such as through the construction of small-scale irrigation systems or small water-impounding irrigation facilities, both of which can be started at the soonest possible time. “These services must of course be free, as what the Free Irrigation Law stipulates,” Mariano adds.
As the COVID fight is expected to take at least several more months, KMP also pushes for a moratorium on land use conversion. Mariano asserts that “productive agricultural lands especially those dedicated to rice must be preserved and even expanded as the local demand for rice increases. The reclassification into subdivisions or other commercial use of lands otherwise used for food production must be stopped.”
KMP points out that the rice production subsidies must be handed out on top of the demand for P10,000 emergency cash assistance for farmers and fisherfolks, or a total of P97 billion for an estimated 9.7 million farmers and fisherfolks nationwide. Added with the P30 billion needed by the rice industry, KMP demands a total of P107 billion worth of funds to rescue and boost the local agricultural production and enable it to face the COVID pandemic. In contrast, Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William Dar is only offering SURE AID loans to farmers affected by the crisis, which reflects once again the Duterte administration’s complacency and belittling of the farmers and fisherfolks situation. “Actually, DA’s programs are mostly composed of loans and market assistance. Farmers need actual aid and not additional loans!” Mariano ends. #