07/29/2010, 00.00
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Swamped by rice imports, the Philippines loses food self-sufficiency

An order for 20,000 tonnes was issued under the former Arroyo administration despite an existing oversupply in rice. Rice producers and peasant activist call on newly elected President Aquino to distribute surplus to poor families. Activists also call for land reform, an issue not yet addressed by the new administration.
Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 20,000 metric tonnes of rice ordered during the Arroyo Administration have arrived in the Philippines in spite of an existing surplus. The news, recently reported by the National Food Authority, angered rice producers and activists who asked newly elected President Benigno Aquino to give the excess rice to the poor. The rice came from Vietnam and was ordered last April by the Philippine International Trading Corp (PTIC), arriving today because of a shipping delay.

About 90 per cent of the Filipino population consumes rice every day; this represents about 128 kilograms per person per year. Yet, despite high consumption levels, rice cultivation remains underdeveloped and the government had to import just over 2 million tonnes last year. This makes the Philippines the largest rice importer in the world. It also puts the country at risk. Because of the global economic crisis, the country almost ran out of supplies in 2008.

“If we are indeed swimming in rice,” said Felix Paz, member of the national council of the Peasants' Movement of the Philippines (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or KMP), “then the Aquino government should just distribute the excess rice for free so that it will not go to waste.

President Aquino, in his State of the Nation Address on Monday, acknowledged that last year four million Filipinos ate less than three meals a day, blaming the problem on the wasteful policies of the former Arroyo administration.

Still, cheap shots at his predecessor aside, in his speech the president brought back to the fore the issue of land reform, which he has not yet addressed.

“More than 4.2 million farmers and agriculture-related workers rely on our staple for their jobs but” the sector “is often neglected. While billions are being spent just to import rice, the price of palay (unhusked rice)” remains “low,” Paz said.

“What the new administration must do now” is “to completely eliminate rice importation, whether legal or illegal, and to implement genuine agrarian reform because this is the key to our food self-sufficiency,” he explained.

Because land is often converted to other uses, rice cultivation now comprises only 10 per cent of the country’s total land area. That's why the government should issue a moratorium, Paz said.

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