HOUSE Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez on Monday urged concerned government agencies to ensure steady food supply, especially that of palay (unhusked rice), by extending more subsidies to farmers in the wake of the decision of Vietnam and Thailand to stop all rice exports amid the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic.
“With COVID-19, our authorities should ensure a stable food supply, including stocks of rice in the coming months. Programs should also focus on agricultural research and extension services, and assistance to farmers in production and marketing, improved access of small farmers to credit and loan facilities from Land Bank of the Philippines as well as other lending institutions,” said Romualdez, principal author of “Heal as One Act of 2020" or Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 to defeat COVID-19 and the chairman of the powerful House committee on rules.
“Philippine agriculture needs to play a greater role in national development,” said Romualdez, President of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD) and Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa). Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Carlos Zarate and former Butil party-list Rep. Cecil Chavez echoed Romualdez’s appeal, underscoring the need boost domestic rice production through massive farmers’ subsidies. "What can be done now for the short term is for the government through the NFA to go all-out in buying palay from local farmers at P20 to P23 per kilogram to bolster our stocks and help farmers hit by th lockdown," said Zarate, referring to the ongoing Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon.
Chavez said the government should arrest the growing concern on food security as other countries are gearing toward stockpiling their food for their own people because of the dreaded disease.
She also suggested that part of the funds to be realigned by President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte under the “Heal as One Act of 2020" or Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 should be dedicated to rice production support, “ which is now imperative given the changed rice supply environment in the ASEAN Region." Chavez said the export freeze decided by Vietnam and Thailand literally closed the import windows that Philippines used to have.
“The two countries supply 90 percent of our rice imports,” said Chavez, the group's spokesperson, of the three million metric tons imported by the Philippines last year under the import liberalization law, 2.1 million metric tons came from Vietnam while a portion came from Thai suppliers.
“We have to understand that the volume of rice traded on the global market is actually very thin, some six million metric tons traded on the open market. And Vietnam and Thailand are two of the major sources, along with Bangladesh. With China's agriculture spooked by the virus, we have no idea on how this will add to the uncertainty of the global rice market,“ said Chavez.
Chavez said the supply uncertainty can only be remedied by a ramped-up domestic rice production and with the funds for production support drawn from the special powers of the President.
She added an “inspired and fully-funded rice production“ will not only guarantee adequate supply but would also give life to the dying countryside, which has been crippled by unlimited rice importation, which in turn caused domestic rice prices to drop to historically low levels.”
“Boosting domestic rice production would also serve as a massive economic stimulus for the rural areas,“ said Chavez.