MANILA—The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Wednesday vowed to deliver several interventions that would counteract the effects of an open market and push the country closer to its goal of rice self-sufficiency.
In a press briefing held in Malacañang, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said that these interventions, which include cheaper and easy-to-build irrigation systems and a more aggressive campaign towards the use of hybrid seeds and farm mechanization among others, would be delivered by the government in the next two to three years.
He said that past governments have previously failed to deliver these interventions during the time when quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice imports were in effect.
The QR, which will lapse on June 30, 2017, would open the country to the influx of cheaper rice from other countries such as Vietnam and Thailand.
The Philippines acquired the right to impose QR on rice as a result of the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations that led to the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995.
The government availed this to help Filipino rice farmers become more competitive. It would have expired on June 30, 2005.
Manila, however, successfully negotiated a seven-year extension of the QR, or up to June 30, 2012, with an increased MAV as a compensation.
But as the Philippine rice sector continued to remain noncompetitive, the QR was again successfully negotiated until June 30, 2017 through a special waiver.
“So we were given until July 1 or end of June 2017 to prepare for that. While I am personally for the extension of the QR for at least two more years, the problem is that during the period within which we should have prepared our farmers, we failed to deliver. Government failed to deliver,” Piñol said.
“I am not blaming anybody. I am not blaming a specific administration, I am not blaming a specific individual for this. But the plain and simple truth is that government has failed to deliver. We failed to deliver on our irrigation systems. We have also failed to convince a lot of our farmers to adopt hybrid rice seeds. We also need to mechanize,” he stressed.
This time, Piñol said that that they are confident that they can deliver the needed interventions to make Filipino farmers competitive under an open market scheme in the next three years.
One is the support for very quick irrigation systems.
“I am proud to tell you that we already have a working model or the first solar powered irrigation system which could irrigate up to a hundred hectares costing less than PHP5 million pesos which could be constructed in less than a month,” he said.
The Agri chief said that this is a better alternative that constructing a dam which takes years to build.
At present, he noted that only 1.3 million hectares of the 3.9 million hectares of available rice lands are irrigated.
“You also have to take into consideration the exponential growth of our population. We cannot irrigate our rice farms in such a pace. We have to do it fast,” Piñol said.
The Cabinet official said that they will be pursuing a more aggressive campaign to convince more farmers to adopt high-yielding hybrid seeds.
Hybrid rice seeds have a potential yield from 8 to 12 tons per hectare as compared to the national average of 3.9 tons per hectare per harvest using mostly traditional seed varieties.
The campaign, he said, is to wean the farmers from their “mindset” or “comfort zone’ of just relying on tested but low-yielding in-bred varieties.
“Of the 3.9 million hectares of rice farms, only 300,000 are planted to hybrid seeds. We are targeting one million hectares for hybrid seeds for this year,” Piñol said.
Along with the introduction of more high-yielding seed varieties, the DA is also studying ways to bring down the price of fertilizers in the country, he said.
Meanwhile, Piñol said that they will also be pursuing a more aggressive campaign towards farm mechanization to reduce post-harvest losses — the bane of farmers.
He said that despite previous campaigns, Filipino rice farmers still lack farm equipment, drying and storage facilities as well as modern milling facilities.
He noted that most rice milling facilities are still outdated with a recovery rate of only 60 percent when a good rice mill will be able to recover 67 percent.
“It’s a big difference. Actually you are talking of 20 million metric tons of palay that would be milled yearly and you could not recover 7 percent of it. That’s a lot of rice,” the Cabinet official said.
For this, he said that they have already started negotiations with the Japanese government for an initial USD1 billion loan under the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the DA.
“This would be used in acquiring farm equipment — from tractors, transplanters, harvesters, dryers, post -harvest facilities,” he said.
The DA chief said that the concept is for farmer groups to operate their own equipment and use these in a specific area of 1,000 hectares.
“We will be having 10 modules who will be using these equipment. If the concept is successful, we will expand this. Initially, the area to be covered is about 10,000 hectares,” he said.
“So these are the interventions that we wish to deliver which were not delivered by the past administration. And again let me qualify this. I am not blaming anybody. I am not putting anybody to a bad light. But this is the truth. But we are confident that within the next two or three years, we could deliver these interventions,” Piñol said.