Sep 072016

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Agriculture insists a plan to remove quantitative restriction (QR) on rice imports will be disastrous to local farmers.

“The Filipino rice farmers are not ready yet for the lifting of the QR mainly because of negligence on the part of the government in the past,” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said.

He said Filipino rice farmers could not yet compete with neighboring rice-producing nations should the government finally decide to lift import restrictions on rice.

In the Philippines, the cost of producing palay (unmilled rice) is around P10-12 per kilo as against the P6 to P10 per kilo in Vietnam and Thailand.

“We need at least two years to improve the average rice production per hectare to at least five to six tons and lower the cost of production per kilo to a maximum of P8,” Piñol said.

“Until such time these are achieved, lifting the QR would be disastrous to the Filipino rice farmers,” he added.

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On the contrary, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA)-Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources director Mercedita Sombilla said farmers have remained disadvantaged even with the current implementation of the QR.

“Even with the QR, farmers were never that much advantaged, especially the small rice farmers who are net consumers of rice for most part of the year and hence have to face the same higher rice prices,” Sombilla said in an email to The STAR.

“If you look at and compare price trends, you can note that while both farm gate and retail prices increased, the latter increased relatively faster than the farm gate prices widening the gap between farm gate and retail prices,” she added.

Sombilla said support must be given to small farmers to boost their yields as the Philippines eventually moves to a no QR regime.

“The lifting of the QR should necessarily be supported with productivity enhancing initiatives to help farmers overcome the possible initial negative impact but which should be aimed to improving their condition as quickly as possible,” Sombilla said.

She said the government should depend on technologies that are in advanced stages of development, including climate-smart technologies that are more resilient to severe and extreme climate conditions which should be done in areas that are conducive to cultivating rice.

Apart from this, Sombilla said new investment in irrigation expansion and rehabilitation of existing systems is also critical in increasing yields and will be beneficial in adapting to climate change and improving food security.

“Transport facilities should be greatly improved to overcome current logistics difficulties. They could also help get farmers move into the supply-value chain processes and partner with private agri-business,” she added.

Meanwhile, state rice importer National Food Authority (NFA) said it was ready to abide by any decision that would be reached with respect to the QR lifting.

“It’s hard to comment right now. We’ll just take the decision and abide by the policy,” NFA Public Affairs spokesperson Angel Imperial said.

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