Press Release
April 8, 2008

Loren asks: What affordable rice for poor Filipinos?

Senator Loren Legarda warned today that government's lifting of the quota on rice importation by private traders without reducing tariff will not ensure an adequate supply of affordable rice for the majority of poor Filipinos.

"Only the rich who can afford premium imported rice will benefit from this move by the government to lift the quota on privately imported rice without easing the tariff levied on them," said Legarda.

"It will only heighten the social inequality in our country," she stressed.

She explained that private importers of rice are bound to pass on to the buyers the tariff and their importation cost to realize profit, thus imported rice brought in by private traders will continue to be beyond the reach of poor Filipinos.

Legarda said that if the objective of the government is to avert a rice supply crisis by increasing its buffer, then the tariff on privately imported rice should be reduced from its present 50 percent, but only for a very limited time.

"The lifting of the rice importation quota and any reduction in the tariff should just be a stop-gap measure. We cannot allow privately imported rice to swamp the market as that will further erode the earnings of local rice farmers," said Legarda.

She said that there is a need to assess how the National Food Authority (NFA) will go about giving permits to private traders to import rice, ensuring that the country's inventory will not unnecessarily exceed its rice consumption requirements.

Legarda noted suggestions that rice importation should be allowed only during lean seasons so as not to dampen the earnings of local farmers.

"I support government moves to ensure the supply of rice, including going after hoarders who want to create artificial shortage. But we must address the root cause of the problem, which is diminishing local production of rice," she said.

"We must go for 100 percent rice sufficiency by providing incentives and support to local farmers and from learning from the experiences of rice-importing countries who have become rice exporters like Vietnam and China," Legarda added.

With the Philippines importing over 10 percent of its rice requirement, Legarda said yield losses during pre- and post-production should be minimized from the estimated 10 to 30 percent of harvestable yield.

Citing the report "Closing the rice yield gap for food security" by Dat Van Tran of the International Rice Commission, Legarda said yield losses had been traced to the lack of drying facilities especially during the wet-season harvests, labor-intensive harvesting, manual threshing, wind winnowing and inappropriate storage that all contribute to grain losses.

"If it's true that as at least 10 percent of local rice produce is lost at post-production, then plugging this one output leak will go a long way in reducing our import requirement," she said.

Meanwhile, Legarda lauded DA Secretary Arthur Yap for going out of his way in explaining to lawmakers the rice situation in the country and what measures are being undertaken to increase rice yield in the country.

"We may not agree with some of the tact being used by the government, but the flow of information from their side would allow Congress to chip in in solving this problem," she said.

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