Farmers decry gov't plan to outsource rice production from Papua New Guinea

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Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 23) — The country now has an agricultural cooperation agreement with Papua New Guinea that will allow Philippine companies to engage in agriculture projects in the Pacific country.

Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said the government is looking to Papua New Guinea for food security, saying Filipinos can grow rice there, then ship the grains back to the country through the private sector.

Piñol said the country has enough rice supply, but there may be a need to outsource rice production to feed a growing population in the future.

"You have to understand, 3.9 million ang rice area.. the population is growing at 1.7 percent and the land area is not expanding. That's final. As the population grows, where do we get the food?" Piñol said.

However, local farmers said rather than prioritize rice importation or outsourcing rice production, the government should give more assistance to them by providing irrigation facilities, machinery and fertilizer supply.

Trinidad Santiago, a member of the National Movement for Food Sovereignty said, "Doon nga kami nasasaktan. Bakit ang produkto ng magsasaka sa ibang bansa ang tatangkilikin natin, samantalang kung itong maliliit na magsasaka, kung bibigyan lang ng gobyerno kayang pakainin ang sambayanang Pilipino."

[Translation: That's what's hurtful. Why should we patronize the products of another country, when the government could support small, local farmers they could feed the country.]

Simeon Sioson, president of the Federation of Central Luzon Farmers Cooperative said, "Kung nakapag-invest po tayo ng ₱300 to ₱400 billion sa mga roads, sa mga bridges, sa airport, bakit hindi natin unahin mag-invest ng at least ₱200 billion sa irrigation?"

[Translation: If we can invest ₱300 to ₱400 billions in roads, bridges, and airports, why can't we first invest at least ₱200 billion on irrigation?]

Rosendo So, president of Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) echoed this sentiment, "Why not irrigate our own area? Marami tayong area dito na pwede pang i-develop [We have plenty of areas here we can still develop]."

Farmers said allowing unregulated imported rice to flood the market may leave them on the losing end, adding this would be possible under a senate bill that seeks to remove the National Food Authority's (NFA) regulatory powers.

Santiago said traders will buy palay from farmers at a lower price should large quantities of imports come in.

Piñol shares the view, saying, "Who will correct traders and retailers who are manipulating the prices and supply in market? While of course senate version has been approved, I believe that it merits a second look. Personally i think, it's an ill-advised move dahil sa issue ng kurapsyon sa NFA ay tatanggalan ng [because of the issue of corruption in NFA, there will be removal of] powers."

Meanwhile, lawmakers are crafting a common version of the rice tarrification bill. The bill lifts rice import limits in exchange for corresponding tariffs.

Senator Cynthia Villar, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, said the bill has a provision that gives assistance to farmers such as machinery.

"Ba't daw ibibigay sa Philmech and Philrice 'yung budget...sila 'yung dalawang agency created to take care of mechanization and development of seeds," she said.

[Translation: Why give the budget to Philmech and Philrice? They are the two agencies created to take care of mechanization and development of seeds.]

Farmers say they are looking forward to the promised government assistance. They hope this help will reach all farmers and not just a few cooperatives.