Press Release
May 6, 2008


Sen. Loren Legarda yesterday called for a "thorough review" of government policies and programs on agricultural production in the face of a food crisis affecting the Filipino people arising from soaring prices of food commodities, especially rice.

Loren issued the call as she deplored that the Philippines is now known as the "world's biggest rice importer" even as its bid to buy additional rice supplies in the world market attracted only one bidder.

"It is disgraceful that our country is now called the 'world's biggest rice importer' while not very long ago we were self-sufficient in the staple and even had surpluses for export," said Loren.

She also deplored that while hundreds of thousands of Filipinos are on the verge of starvation because of inability to buy rice at present prices "we are pushing up the price of rice in the world market by making the biggest bid for importation. It is like we are costing our people out of eating rice."

Loren declared that the reason the Philippines has become deficient in the production of rice is because government had long ago abandoned rice self-sufficiency as a major economic policy in favor of the production of "cash crops" for export, like cut flowers.

Loren cited a study by Jessica Reyes-Cantos, an economist, who is the lead convener of Rice Watch and Action Network, which revealed that the government has "caved in" to advice from foreign institutions like the International Rice Research Institute and the World Bank to abandon the goal of rice self-sufficiency because the Filipinos "can trust the global market to feed its own people."

"Now we find out that the 'global market' cannot be trusted to feed our own people because even our bid to purchase rice at current market prices has failed," said Loren. "In short we cannot trust others to produce our own food needs. We have to do it ourselves."

Loren also deplored that the Philippines has drastically cut its subsidies for agricultural production, including rice, while the United States, which is the biggest producer of rice, heavily subsidizes its rice farmers, spending $11 billion for the purpose from 1995 to 2006, according to a report of the Cato Institute.

Loren declared that no less than the Department of Agriculture has admitted that out of more than thee million hectares of land capable of being irrigated and planted to rice, only 1.2 million hectares are served by irrigation systems. However, the irrigation systems covering 300,000 hectares have not been maintained and no longer provide water to rice fields.

"By doubling the areas served by irrigation we would be doubling, if not tripling, the amount of rice we produce annually. Perhaps if our government has not criminally neglected the maintenance of our irrigation system thousands of our families would not be facing starvation as they are doing today because of the food shortage," she stressed.

Loren also said that the government should look into the advantages of traditional rice farming considering that new seed varieties of rice are susceptible to diseases, such as tungro, which wiped out large rice harvests years ago. "After all as shown by our rice terraces our ancestors have been planting enough rice for their needs for many prior centuries," she declared.

Loren also criticized the plan of the Department of Agriculture to produce only 98 percent of local rice needs by 2010. "This is unacceptable for our goal should be not just to produce 98 percent but 100 percent or more of our rice needs. We should aim for an ample rice surplus like other countries are doing to ensure food security in case of natural and other emergencies," emphasized Loren.

She declared that she would institute a move in the Senate to totally review the government agricultural policies, especially those in rice, to prevent future shortages in the production of the staple."

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