Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Smoke and Mirrors, Part 2

Food is a sensitive national issue, and it is one of the key points of the Arroyo administration for the upcoming State of the Nation Address. Food on every table was the promise made, and as to its fulfilment, the following claims: rolling stores, Barangay Bagsakan centers, rice buyback schemes, rice self-sufficiency at 90% from 2001 to 2007, and NFA rice at P18.25 per kilo.

We cannot yet adequately gauge the impact and effectiveness of rolling stores, Bagsakan centers, or rice buyback schemes; suffice to say, merely, that they are in place. If one happens to be a direct beneficiary of these programs, well and good.

But as to the 90% rice sufficiency claims and the P18.25 per kilo rice?

It is hardly true that all rice costs P18.25 per kilo. In the past few months, here in Davao, they have gone as high as P50 per kilo. The NFA, in fact, also sells other rice varieties at P25 and P30, all imported, with the much-vaunted P18.25 being the poorest quality.

Not only that, one can only avail of the P18.25 per kilo rice provided one has an access card, and only after enduring long lines at distribution centers. Oh, and limit to only two kilos per family, please.

The economic wisdom behind the P18.25 per kilo rice is dubious (though perhaps not so its political wisdom). Its landed cost is P30, which means that its selling price is subsidized by almost a hundred percent. This is why P10-B was spent to cover the deficit in the first half of the year alone. Who's paying for this? We are.

More telling than the P10-B subsidy spent in the first half of the year are the foreign trade statistics from the National Statistics Office. For April 2008, we imported $69-M of wheat and $155-M of rice, up from $8-M (683% increase) and $56-M (173% increase), respectively in April 2007.

In light of all this, are we really on our way to rice self-sufficiency? If we look at the raw numbers, we are: our projected rice production for 2008 is 17.3-M tons, up 6.7-M tons from last year, which, following PhilRice projections, is 90% self-sufficiency. Time for congratulations? Look at the contortions we have to undergo because of that remaining 10%.

Furthermore, to say that we have 90% self-sufficiency this year, 95% next year, and 100% by 2010 is deceptive. A document on NFA Rice Import Arrivals from 1971 to 2007 shows that, from 1978 to 1983 and some years in the early 1990s we needed no rice imports at all; in all other years, the figures have fluctuated with no discernible pattern (although, we might add, it was only during the past three years of the Arroyo administration where we've had to consistently import over 1.7-M metric tons of rice per year.)

Covering the remaining distance to full self-sufficiency is contingent on so many factors, even ones that go beyond commitments for additional spending for the agricultural sector.

Crowing about this achievement is like boasting that one has almost, but not quite, reached the finish line.

No comments:

Post a Comment