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Bacolod City, PhilippinesWednesday, January 19, 2011
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with Primo Esleyer

More on food security

We got a lot of feedback on our items on food security and the much-feared food riots in the future.

My friend Neil Honeyman texted us, “Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala says he aims for rice self sufficiency by 2013. This is empty unless he can say how. All he can do is imitate Marie Antoniette and say, ‘Let them eat camote.’”

When Marie Antoinette, the Queen of Louis XVI was told the people were hungry without bread to eat, she answered, “Let them eat cake.”

The French felt insulted and this ignited the French Revolution that resulted in the beheading of the King and Marie Antoinette in the guillotine.

* * *

Our other friend Robert Harland, member of the Negros Occidental Garden Club, supports the program of food security.

In July the Club launched “Adopt a Fruit Tree” project, a long-term program designed to encourage wider awareness among children of gardening and plants, Harland said.

The scheme, Robert said, is the brainchild of club outreach committee chair Nitsa Estrella.

The first school to take part was the Vista Alegre-Granada relocation elementary school. They planted seedlings of avocado, papaya, guyabano, tambis, jack fruit and lomboy.

Then followed other elementary schools like Villa Esperanza in Tangub, the Teofilo Gensoli national high school, and other schools.

* * *

Meanwhile, former Assembly man Johnny Yulo wrote me in long hand, that he agreed with our hammering on food production. Nothing beats that, he said.

Here are his reasons for our poor rice production.

  1. The price is not right. Too much importation because of greed and the farmers are forced to sell their produce in advance and the merchants take a big bite leaving the bones to the farmers.
  2. We have to admit growing rice is more tedious than sugar canes. One has to have continuous supply of water and one has to worry about post harvest facilities.
  3. There are few lands suited only for rice and not canes. Low lands which we have more than enough become marginal because of lack of financing.

* * *

These problems are not without solutions. With the team up between the government and the private sector, the problem can be licked.

It’s really a shame we cannot feed our people. Our top officials are wallowing in wealth yet millions of our people get hungry, Yulo said.

What more can we ask from God? No winter, fertile lands, and yet we go hungry.

* * *

What caused all these failures to produce much rice?

NFA Administrator Lito Banayo found out after an audit by the Commission on Audit that NFA incurred a debt totaling P177 billion during the term of President Arroyo.

Banayo said during the last three years of the Arroyo administration, NFA overpriced our importation by $125 per metric ton. If we take the whole 9 years, importation was overpriced by an average of $60 per metric ton.      

It was an atrocious corruption.

Banayo said fictitious cooperatives and corporations that took part in the purchase of the cereals from abroad piggy backed with smuggled rice on the NFA importation program.

During the global grains crisis in 2008, the Philippines became the world’s biggest importer of rice, with its purchases driving up the cost of the cereal on the international market.

Banayo said the huge overprice and excessive importation of rice pushed up the NFA debt to P177 billion.

* * *

Banayo said that when the new administration took over in July 8, 2010, he discovered that the NFA had stocks of the total national requirement even if our mandate called for a 30-day inventory level during the lean months, NFA had total stocks equivalent to 70 days supply of the total requirements.

In December 2009 and January 2010 NFA preterminated its bonds and sold them before they matured, “thus losing P1.3 billions to P3.3 billion paid to the financial advisors.”

Opposition Senators Francis Escudero and Loren Legarda suggested that officials close to Malacañang – high ranking officials in the NFA and the agriculture department – might have kickbacks of as much as P13.1 billion from the alleged overprice.

* * *

The Philippines was slightly self-sufficient in the 1970s then returned to be a rice importer. Low production and high importation led to higher rice prices.

* * *

What made the importation bigger and bigger was that the government neglected the local farmers. While supporting countries heavily subsidized their farmers, our rice farmers were left to fend for themselves, raising the suspicion, it was so intended that the country would continue to import rice and from the kickback  corrupt officials made millions for themselves.*

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