As population grows, less rice is produced
BY AMADO P. MACASAET
In the past 20 years from 1990 to the first six months of the current year, the Philippines imported $8.232 billion worth of rice, equivalent to P362.208 billion.
This is equivalent to 21 per cent of the present general annual appropriation.
On the other hand, government price support for the Filipino rice producers during the period amounted to only P21.156 billion during the same period. The support is only six per cent of the total value of imports.
The clear trend, based on figures supplied by the National Food Authority is towards heavier imports in the coming years. This is borne out by the fact that the area planted to rice is hardly increasing in the face of a population that grows by two per cent or two million babies a year.
In 1991, the area planted to rice was 3.425 million hectares. By 2009, the area increased to 4.532 million hectares. But for the same period from 1990, or 19 years, 38 million people were added to the present estimated population of higher than 95 million.
The propensity to import clearly ignores the capacity of local farms to increase production as suggested by the figures supplied by the NFA.
The price of local palay, presumably with minimal government subsidy has gone down from P15.23 per kilo in January to P14.93. The average price for the 2000-2010 period is 14.67 per kilo.
The NFA official could not believe why the price of palay should go down even during a bumper harvest while importation continues to rise. What this involves is a basic question of workable agricultural policy, particularly for the staple cereal.
An official of the NFA told Business Insight that the palay price does not leave the farmers a decent profit. In a growing number of cases, he said, the farmers themselves become net consumers of imported rice.
This, he said, is the principal reason why the bulk of the population which used to be 60 per cent rural and 40 per cent urban, has been reversed.
While the area planted to rice has increased from from 3.425 million metric tons for 1991, increasing to 4.542 million MT in 2009, the yield per hectare has been erratic at best.
The figures supplied by the NFA show that in 1991 the yield per hectare was only 2.82 metric tons of palay. The increase to 3.59 million tons per hectare in 2009 was largely a result of a nominal expansion of area planted from 3.425 million hectares in 1991 to 4.532 in 2009.
The lack of government assistance to farmers does not increase palay yield although the area planted has increased.
The figures indicate that the government has failed to help Filipino farmers increase rice production by giving them not only price support but with other vital inputs such as irrigation, hand tractors and pesticides.
The other problem of increasing rice productivity is the inability of the farmers to use high-yield varieties. These are technology specific and therefore expensive.
Instead of helping the Filipino rice farmers acquire the expensive inputs, it opts to import rice from as far as Pakistan but the bulk of the cereal is largely imported from Thailand and Vietnam.