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A Kilo of Unhusked Rice Costs P7 And It's Starving Our Farmers

Massive amounts of imported rice plunged prices of local produce and no one is buying them.
IMAGE PIXABAY/UNSPLASH
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Palay or unhusked rice prices have plummeted across the Philippines’ rice-producing regions. In Nueva Ecija, described in elementary textbooks as the Rice Granary of the Philippines, a kilo of unhusked rice sells for a measly 7 pesos. Yet rice traders are not buying it.

In 2017, a kilo of unhusked rice sold for P18 pesos a kilo. At that time, rice farmers were already pleading with the government to protect them by placing a floor price on their harvest, which they deemed was priced too low in the rice trading market.

Farmers are blaming the recently signed Rice Tariffication Law, which they branded as a form of rice liberalization that opened the gates for imported rice to flood the local industry. Because of the influx of imported rice into the country, farmgate prices of unhusked rice have fallen to record lows. In Pampanga, it is P9 per kilo, and in Bataan, it is P7 per kilo.

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Rice Traders No Longer Want to Buy Local Produce

In a report by Rappler, farmers said that the market is now flooded with very cheap rice imports from Asia that rice traders no longer buy from them.

Rice is considered as an economically sensitive crop in the Philippines, which means protections must be in place to ensure its price stability and production. In the past, the government put a limit on the amount of rice importation through quantitative restrictions on top of tariff slapped on the products. The Rice Tariffication Law removed the quantitative restrictions on imported rice, allowing unlimited amounts of rice to enter the country, but with higher tariff rates of as much as 35%.

Farmers Give Up On Their Industry

The decades-old plight of Filipino rice farmers has sapped them of their will to continue tilling land when they cannot even feed themselves or support their family. For many, they would rather sell their land to real estate developers who convert precious farmlands into subdivisions.

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Farming in the Philippines has become synonymous to a life of poverty.

But the issue of the Philippines’ shrinking farmlands is just the tip of the iceberg. The Philippines’ failure to substantially support farmers through decades of neglect has made farming an unattractive profession. Farming in the Philippines has become synonymous to a life of poverty. As a result, the farmers’ children refuse to pursue their parents’ livelihood, opting for more attractive jobs in the city.

The ageing population of farmers is also a serious problem for the country’s food security. In a 2017 report by the Department of Agriculture, it was shown that the average age of Filipino farmers was 60 years old. This means that there is more than two generations’ vacancy in the farming industry, and very little is being done to fill the vacuum.

Government’s Reaction to P7 Unhusked Rice

Despite the farmers’ pleas for the government to help them, the National Food Authority (NFA) has downplayed the situation and refuted the farmers’ claims that unhusked rice is selling at P7. NFA administrator Judy Dansal cited data from the Philippine Statistics Authority which states that unhusked rice is selling at P17 per kilo, while the cheapest ones are sold at P13.

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Meanwhile, the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP), which is composed of 145 mayors of the cities in the Philippines, lauded the national government for the liberalization of rice imports.

“We in the LCP have seen the huge benefit of this law to our respective constituencies who now enjoy more affordable prices of rice,” it said in a manifesto signed by its national chair, Cebu City Mayor Edgardo Labella.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
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