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Finding the truth about rice

The upcoming Senate investigation of issues surrounding rice, like the ongoing price increases, allegations of rice shortage, manipulation of supply by alleged cartels, and even irregularities in rice importations, is both timely and necessary.

Senator Manny B. VillarRice is the primary staple food of Filipinos. The Philippines is among the largest importers of rice in the world because domestic production has not been able to keep up with demand.

The Department of Agriculture estimates rice production for 2013 at 13 million metric tons, compared with a demand of about 11.23 million metric tons. On the other hand, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates this year’s un-milled rice production at 18 million metric tons, up 6 percent from 16.99 million metric tons in 2012. This is equivalent to 11.8 million metric tons of milled rice.

If the agriculture department’s domestic production forecast turns accurate, then we don’t have to worry about a shortage, considering that we are also mandated to allow the importation of 350,000 metric tons of rice a year as minimum access volume (MAV) under the World Trade Organization (WTO). Of the total MAV, about 187,000 metric tons were imported last April, leaving 163,000 metric tons still to come in.

Filipinos rice consumption is decreasing, according to the agriculture department. In a report last month, the government-owned Philippine National Agency cited Agriculture Assistant Secretary Dante Delima, concurrently National Rice Program coordinator, as saying that the annual per capita consumption of rice declined from 2008 to 2012. Delima said data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) showed that per capita rice consumption decreased from 128 kilograms in 2008 to 114.26 kilograms in 2012.

The agriculture official also said that data from the National Statistics Office (NSO), which showed a slowdown in the Philippines’ population growth rate, from 2.34 percent during the period 1990-2000 to 1.9 percent for 2000 to 2010. Slower population growth means less addition to the number of rice consumers, which, in turn, translates to less demand.

The situation on the ground, however, tells a different story. Last week, a rumor that free rice would be distributed drove consumers to rush to Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, where the supposed distribution of free rice (which, of course, turned out to be just a rumor) would happen. The reaction underscored the people’s complaint about rising rice prices.

Newspapers reported last week that rice was retailing at P35 to P37 per kilo, up by P3 to P4 per kilo from July, when prices first went up to P35 to P37 per kilo from as low as P29 a kilo. The price increases was triggered by stories of a rice shortage.

The National Food Authority (NFA) denied there was a rice shortage, citing good harvest from the recent cropping season. The Department of Agriculture said the price increases were a result of artificial shortages caused by rice millers and rice traders hoarding the food staple. This was denied by the millers and traders.

I hope the Senate gives this inquiry the highest priority and find out the reality about the rice situation. This is a subject that affects all Filipinos, from the farmers, who till the land and produce the grain, to the consumers, most of whom consider rice as the most important part of their meals.

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