Looks like we may or may not have a rice shortage, depending on who you talk to.
The Manila Bulletin reported in the beginning of the month (Aug 1, 2023) that the country has “enough supply of rice that would last for a little more than one month,” specifically 39 days’ worth until harvest season in September and October.
Factors that have affected rice production include Super Typhoon Egay (Typhoon Doksuri) which passed through in late July, bringing with it agricultural damage worth “an estimated P1.9 billion, including P950 million worth of damage to the rice sector;” the ongoing Russo-Ukraninan War which resulted in an increase in food prices worldwide due to the halting of some export products and an increase in the price of fertilizer.
Importation, traditionally the country’s knee-jerk solution to its lack of food production, might not be an easy solution either, as India banned the export of non-basmati white rice in mid-July.
This is but the most recent addition to a growing list of food we, an agricultural country, cannot grow enough of for ourselves. It’s been well known for a while that despite the over one billion pesos allocated by the Department of Agriculture for rice production, the crop continues to underperform, with many of its farmers trapped in a cycle of debt, lacking access to a legitimate source of funds. A majority of our farmers continue to be unbanked, with many banks electing to pay penalties instead of lending to farmers and fishers under the agriculture and agrarian reform loans mandated by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
The Philippines, by virtue of being located along the typhoon belt, is besieged by storms every year, and yet every year, we are surprised by the rains, the flooding, the loss of lives, and the damage to infrastructure and agriculture each passing storm leaves in its wake. And this was before the climate crisis became as noticeable as it is now. Are we going to continue being caught unaware every year?
Many people have suggested lessening the funds allocated to rice and using them to bolster production of other, more profitable crops such as vegetables, coffee, or cacao. Even ornamental plants stand to earn more as an industry if given proper government support and funding. Economists, much to the chagrin of rice farmers, have even suggested lessening rice production as grains and cereals need a bigger economy of scale to be profitable for the country as a whole.
In any case, we can talk about different aspects of agriculture all day long but the long and short (grain–sorry, I can’t resist a bad pun) of it is that at the end of the day, food prices are rising and people are either already hungry, or are inching closer towards it. This, amid the President’s campaign promise of bringing the price of rice down to P20 a kilo. This can still happen, but not without government subsidy. The question is if it does happen, how much will rice farmers be getting?
Working in agriculture policy means grappling with the paradox of needing farmers and fishers to produce a constant supply of product and make enough money to make it worth their time to stay in agriculture while ensuring that the public is able to buy nutritious, delicious food at affordable prices. The Philippines has always had problems with all three, and there hasn’t been a big or effective enough program or series of programs to address any of them. People seem to forget that disgruntled farmers will eventually mean a starving nation.
Now, more than ever, as instability (due to many reasons that include, at the very least, the climate crisis) threatens the whole world, it is important that the Philippines places importance on its food sustainability. If more countries are forced to go the route of India, not just in terms of rice but also other agricultural products, we may have a massive hunger situation on our hands if we continue to rely on imports and refuse to support our own production. Let’s not treat our food insecurity the same way we treat our storms, continually being surprised and caught unaware when they appear year after year. The signs are there. We have been warned. We must do something about our food insecurity because we’re already in the middle of it.