HomeCommentaryAs rice shortage looms, farmers remain unaided

As rice shortage looms, farmers remain unaided

Expect low rice harvest and high prices as usual this Christmas. The Philippines must import 2.9 million tons – 58 million sacks. That won’t be easy.

Expect low rice harvest and high prices as usual this Christmas. The Philippines must import 2.9 million tons – 58 million sacks. That won’t be easy. The Ukraine war and weather disturbances have cut other countries’ grain productions.

The government can only depend on Filipino farmers. Yet it has not fully handed out the small cash incentives for 2021 to many of them. And it still has to start distributing the aid due this 2022.

More than 400,000 planters have yet to receive PhP5,000 each in Rice Farmer Financial Assistance (RFFA) for 2021. The cash should have been given out in September-October last year, former agriculture secretary Leonardo Montemayor laments.

The government-owned Land Bank will begin paying only this week, and only to 91,000 in Ilocos, Cagayan, Central Luzon and Western Visayas. The rest will have to wait as the bank sorts out paperwork.

​The RFFA recompenses farmers for income lost from the flood of imports starting 2020. Only a little over a million are eligible, those who own less than two hectares; half a million others won’t get aid.

The Development Bank of the Philippines has paid RFFA to 600,000 others as of last June.
​Another PhP5,000 each for 2022 has yet to be distributed to the million-plus small farmers, says Montemayor, Federation of Free Farmers chairman. That’s on top of the seedling and fertilizer aid under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Program. Government already has the money for it — from rice import duties collected starting mid-2021.

It will have a hard time sourcing the 2.9-million-ton shortfall from abroad. That’s in addition to 508,000-ton emergency stocks, good for 15 days, it must store for typhoons, earthquakes and drought.

- Newsletter -

​China’s northern wheat lands suffered floods in the first half of 2022, then a 70-day heatwave in southern rice fields. It will import six million tons of rice to offset its poor harvest. Drought ruined wheat crops in America and India, forcing international buyers to shift to other cereals, principally rice. But India’s rice harvest has dropped by 10 million tons.

Harvests in Thailand and Vietnam, the Philippines’ main suppliers, are expected to increase. But rich countries will also line up at their export doors and likely elbow out poor Philippines. Playing up ASEAN neighborliness can only do so much. Singapore and strife-torn Myanmar also need rice. All ten ASEAN members, plus Korea, Japan and Timor, are storing up in case of war between China and Taiwan.

​Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February delayed the latter’s wheat cropping as one of the world’s largest suppliers. Disrupted too was planting in neighboring Poland and Belarus. Nitrogen fertilizer, derived mainly from natural gas, fell due to economic sanctions against Russia, the world’s largest producer. Deliveries were stuck in Black Sea embargoes. The world shifted to costlier potassium and phosphate fatteners.

Fertilizer prices have tripled in the Philippines, crippling not only rice farmers. Planters of corn, sugar, vegetables and fruits also groan.

Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.

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