"If you ask me,  we just have to import rice. I do not believe that we can be rice sufficient." -- President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, June 14, 2018

President Duterte's statement on the country's incapacity to produce rice self-sufficiently alarmed our organization, KAISAHAN, and raised a number of questions from our partner farmer communities.

First, what could be the President's basis for this claim? Second, is it acceptable for an agricultural country like the Philippines to depend on rice imports?

The President seems to be losing his hope to increase rice production in the country, and achieve the government's target to be rice self-sufficient, when in fact, the Philippines has more than 4.35 million hectares of prime agricultural land used for rice production (DA and PhilRice, 2010). Of the 4.35M hectares, 1.27M irrigable or rain-fed lands can be maximized by the government to produce rice 2-3 times per year, if only irrigation systems supporting these lands are developed (Baladad, 2018).

It is also important to note that the country's rice production is growing at an average rate of 1.9% per year, placing the Philippines the 9th largest rice producer in the world, accounting for 2.8% of global rice production.

Recent studies of several institutions like National Irrigation Administration (NIA) (2013), Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) (2018), and the Department of Agriculture (DA) (2017) belie his claim. All three studies show that the Philippines can maintain its status as a rice self-sufficient country, IF: (1) the government land data is to be believed, the Philippines continues to have enough land area for rice production; and (2) new innovations in agricultural production by several agricultural institutes, like the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), are utilized to increase the yield of the country's rice production amidst climate change.

With this, we believe that the Philippines is, and can still be rice self-sufficient with the right government intervention and, more importantly, support for the hard work of our farmers.

For our country to remain rice self-sufficient, the government should be focusing more on strengthening our agricultural sector and capacitating our farmers, rather than encouraging importation, by allocating more budget  for support services to small farmers; investing in effective, sustainable farming technologies; and strictly implementing prohibitions on agricultural land use conversion.

Thus, the passage of the National Land Use Act (NLUA) is necessary to strengthen national and local policies and programs to properly and sustainably allocate the country's land and other natural resources.

We, at KAISAHAN, call for the swift passage of the NLUA for the long-term protection of prime agricultural lands to achieve food security and rice self-sufficiency of the country given our growing population.

We also encourage the Department of Agriculture to counter-check the current data of prime agricultural lands and update its inventory of lands planted to rice to properly guide our President and legislators in improving policies and programs to achieve rice self-sufficiency

Lastly, as farmer leader Elvira Baladad claims, the Philippines IS rice self-sufficient. It can continue to be if the land, as well as farmers, are defended by laws that will PROTECT and CONSERVE the country's prime agricultural lands to ensure the rice supply of the next generation of Filipinos.

We are still rice self-sufficient, and we can maintain this status if our government takes necessary action today.

Protect prime agricultural lands! Pass NLUA NOW!


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Sources:

Baladad, E. (2018). The Missing Rice Lands and the Looming Rice Shortage, Hunger and Starvations. PARAGOS-PILIPINAS.

Philippine Daily Inquirer. (2018, June 14). Duterte: PH will always import rice. Retrieved from http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1000703/duterte-ph-will-always-import-rice

Kabiling, G. (2018, April 4). Rice self-sufficiency unlikely due to shrinking farm lands - Duterte. Retrieved from https://news.mb.com.ph/2018/04/03/rice-self-sufficiency-unlikely-due-to-shrinking-farm-lands-duterte-2/

Sun Star Philippines. (2013). NIA exec optimistic Philippines to attain rice sufficiency. Retrieved from http://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/287647/NIA-exec-optimistic-Philippines-to-attain-rice-sufficiency

International Rice Research Institute. (n.d.). Philippines gets more peso per hectare from rice breeding. Retrieved from http://irri.org/our-impact/increase-food-security/philippines-gets-more-peso-per-hectare-from-rice-breeding

Miraflor, M. B. (2018, February 14). PH edges closer to rice self-sufficiency. Retrieved from http://www.philrice.gov.ph/libraryweb/index.php/article/41/PH-edges

Ocampo, K. R. (2017, October 28). PH now 95% self-sufficient in rice supply. Retrieved from http://business.inquirer.net/239433/ph-now-95-self-sufficient-rice-supply

SEARCA Biotechnology Information Center. (2016, October 18). PH can be rice self-sufficient thru hybrid seeds, farm mechanization. Retrieved from http://bic.searca.org/site/ph-can-be-rice-self-sufficient-thru-hybrid-seeds-farm-mechanization/