Bare Truth by Rose de la Cruz
Bare Truth

A step in the right direction

Jul 9, 2022, 1:24 AM
Rose De La Cruz

Rose De La Cruz

Columnist

This early, I laud President Marcos Jr.’s decision to cut on agricultural importation and produce more food locally than face “imported inflation.” He shows an understanding of the interconnection and impact of local production to job generation, food security and sustenance and inflation (particularly imported inflation).

On my trip to a talipapa near our house, I was shocked to find that vegetables—onions, garlic, ginger, carrots, eggplant, potatoes and more—are now priced P100 per kilo and up. Even a tahong (shellfish of smaller varieties) cost P100 per kilo (when much of its weight is due to the shell).

Cooking oil (I now go for palm oil because it is cheaper than coconut oil, which I love to patronize but because of belt tightening I am forced to buy palm oil), sugar (brown or white) and eggs are so pricey I wonder how the minimum wage earners cope.

Which is why on reading the papers that Marcos Jr. favors more local production than importing agricultural products, I was grateful that at last, someone sees the light not just for consumers like me, but more importantly for producers—farmers and fisherfolk—who can’t stand a chance with imported food products.

Reports said that the president plans to address rising inflation by reducing the country’s reliance on imported food staples.

In his first presscon after the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Marcos said he intends to solve the country’s food supply concerns by boosting local production of rice and corn.

“We would prefer to import as little as possible. So, we should increase our own production of rice (a human staple) and corn (for both humans and animal feeds),” Marcos said.

He noted the country needs to increase its production of corn, which is being used as a feed substitute for imported wheat.

“This season, the corn growers were able to come together and provide sufficient feed for the broiler production. But we still have to increase production of corn to ensure that supply because there’s also—there’s corn for food and there’s corn for feed,” Marcos said.

Short-term response

Marcos said he wants to provide government intervention to farmers before the last planting season this year as a “short-term” solution to the country’s food supply concerns.

“They will harvest towards the end of the year they will mill soon after that. So, we may be able to catch up with our food supply problem by then,” Marcos said. I need to point out that he just met with DA officials and stakeholders the day before, which is why he seemed to have grasped the entire situation.

But when it comes to pork, Marcos said the country has no choice but to continue importing it since local hog farmers are still reeling from the effects of the African Swine Fever (ASF). He said it was also the same case for poultry due to the issues with feed supplies.

“On the broiler side, the chicken production, we will also still have to import because we have problems with feeds,” Marcos said.

Imported inflation

On Tuesday, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported the inflation rate accelerated to 6.1 percent in June compared to 5.4 percent in May.

Marcos said the country’s inflation rate may actually be lower than what was stated by PSA. “I think I will have to disagree with that number. We are not that high,” Marcos said. (Let me butt in, please Mr. President, go to the market and find out how hard it is to buy food without draining one’s pockets).

He blamed the country’s high inflation rate on external factors. “Much of our inflation is actually imported inflation. It is imported because it is the inflation on the products that have suffered inflation that we import,” Marcos said.

Rice imports

The country imported in the first six months nearly 30 percent more on an annual basis to 1.887 million tons of rice because of the high demand for cheaper supply, Business Mirror reported.

Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) data showed that rice imports from January to June rose by 433,000 MT from 1.454 MMT recorded in the same period of last year.

Industry sources said the landed cost of imported rice remains cheaper than the locally- produced staple, making it more profitable for entities to import rice. (This has always been the excuse for importing more).

Rice prices in key Philippine suppliers, particularly Vietnam, have remained relatively stable in the past months and even lower compared to last year’s quotations. Latest Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) global price monitoring report showed that Vietnam rice prices range from $396.5 per metric ton (5 percent broken) to $416.8 per metric ton (25 percent broken). This translates to a rice price of P21.8 per kilogram to about P22.92 per kilogram at current exchange rates. (Please don’t tell me this will be the basis for Marcos Jr. to import more of this staple to achieve his promise of P20 kilo rice).

Rice industry players have been also stockpiling rice this year amid expectations of tight domestic supply and lower local output due to a spike in production inputs. Vietnam (which only learned the proper rice planting from us) remained the country’s top rice supplier at 1.517 MMT, followed by Myanmar at 153,969.28 MT.

BPI data also showed that rice imports from Pakistan, which has been benefiting from lower tariff rates, continued to grow, reaching 111,550.675 MT in end-June. Rice imports from Thailand reached 95,173.125 MT, while imports from China and India reached 3,591.5 MT and 5,168.385 MT, respectively.

The BPI also issued 453 sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPS-ICs) for rice in June, which has a corresponding total applied import volume of 644,244 MT. DA officials claimed the country would have to resort to importation to boost domestic rice supply, especially if local production continues to fall amid skyrocketing fertilizer and fuel prices.

Stakeholders’ call

In a statement, the Philippine Rice Stakeholders’ Movement (PRISM) urged the president, who is also DA secretary to continue the DA’s monthly dialogue with rice industry stakeholders in ensuring the welfare of various players in the value chain.

While the global economy is facing “a potential food crisis due to shortage and unabated price increase, we find it absolutely necessary for both the government and the industry stakeholders to work together and come up with a common solution by synchronizing its efforts to this problem,” it said.


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