The RICEing demand

By Christele Jao Amoyan

Mang Reynaldo’s life starts at 7 am. He drives his way from Bay, Laguna to his tending contract farm at PhilRice on his two-wheel ride, rain or shine. Early on, he will be spotting birds picking palay grains, and will be weeding wild grasses sprouting on the half-hectare rice paddy. This would be his day-to-day routine for the next 30 days before harvest-time nears mid-week of October.

The 45 year-old farmer Mang Reynaldo is the breadwinner of his family.  He has four children. Two of which – Reyciel, 26, and Realyn, 24 – got married at a young age. Not one of them were able to finish high school.

Mang Reynaldo and his family are among the two million households that depend on rice-based farming in the country. He has been a farmer for over 20 years. Currently, he is working as a contractual laborer at PhilRice Los Baños with an income of P390.00 per day. Mang Reynaldo says that the money he receives can barely support his family’s needs. “Kulang ang kinikita ko. Ang mamahal na ng bilihin ngayon. Kaya nga ibayong pagtitipid na ang ginagawa ko.”

According to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, a farmer earns about P75,000 annually on the average. Basically, a farmer’s salary is considered underpaid labor compared to a white-collar-job’s whose workload is less physically taxing than that of manning the rice fields.

The RICEing Crisis

“May krisis ngayon sa bigas,” says Rey Buhat, a rice retailer in Barangay Batong Malake, Los Baños. For six years that Rey has been experiencing rice price increase, it is only now that he felt the erratic shift of rice prices. From the regular milled rice of P34.00 per kilo, it went up to P41.00. Some of his costumers were surprised about this.

However, Rey’s costumers still pick the good quality rice. He said that buyers still prefer quality rice despite the price hike. “Di bale ng medyo mahal ang bigas, basta masarap naman kainin,” Rey explained.

Rice price crisis has already been a problem since 2007/2008. The price tripled in six months after a steady slow trend in 2005 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Hence, there are two reasons why there is rocketing price of rice. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) claims that the shortage in supply and heightened demand keep the price up. This means that the price yield produced does not meet the consumers’ demand or consumption requirement.

The RICEing Consumption

Thirty to seventy per cent of a person’s caloric intake is derived from rice. Rice is enriched with nutrients and carbohydrates to fuel up the daily body energy need. It serves as the primary staple food in the Philippines.

Rice is every Filipino’s favorite. It matches well with almost any kind of viand. Rice can also be served anytime of the day, may it be day-in or day-out. Pinoys have sinangag (fried rice) during breakfast, mixed with savory garlic and spices – a perfect combo for beef tapa and egg. For lunch, nothing wins the appetite than a freshly cooked rice and caldereta. And for dinner, bahaw (leftover rice) swam in hot soup of sinigang will finally satisfy your day.

Gil Suazo, a junior student in the university spends half of his 100-peso allowance on rice. Every meal, he consumes three to four cups of rice a day. “Mas importante na may kanin,” says Gil.

Gil and the rest of the 3.5 billion people on earth eat on rice. That is half of the world population. Moreover, 90 per cent of that comes from Asia alone, where still, extreme hunger is faced by 560 million people in the region.

Based from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2013 consumption forecast, the Philippines produced more than 11 thousand tons of milled rice in the first quarter of the year. Though the country tops 6th as the largest rice yielding country in the world, the production rate is yet to meet the domestic consumption at 12, 900 tons. 

The RICEing Problem

Meron tayong isang mabigat na problema. Tumataas man ang production natin, ang population naman natin ay tumataas din,” told Richard Romanillos, development coordinator at PhilRice Los Baños. The booming count of Filipinos is essentially one aspect of concern to rice production. According to the Population Commission (PopCom), the Philippine population is expected to reach 98 million by the end of 2013.

Aside from the growing need for rice, another challenge is the shrinking arable farmlands. FAO reported that after a couple of decades since 1991, two-thirds of the 10 million hectares of rice fields are gone.

In spite of these stumbling blocks to achieve rice self-sufficiency in the country, Filipinos remained accountable for rice wastage. In 2010, 13 per cent of rice has been wasted. This much could already feed 2.6 million people for a year’s time. Furthermore, PhilRice survey shows that for every two tablespoons of leftover rice, 17 million pesos is spent for rice supply.

(Y)our RICEponsibility

This RICEing demand paves way to the National Year of Rice 2013. This campaign works in the national arena venturing from rice production to rice consumption. NYR 2013 shares the advocacy of rice self-sufficiency.

This is embodied in President Benigno C. Aquino III’s Presidential Proclamation No. 494 launched in October 18, 2012 conveying the theme “Sapat na Bigas, Kaya ng Pinas.” Hence, during the President’s 2nd State of the Nation Address (SONA), he mentioned: “Ang gusto nating mangyari: Una, hindi tayo aangkat ng hindi kailangan. Ikalawa, ayaw na nating umasa sa pag-angkat. Ang isasaing ni Juan Dela Cruz dito ipupunla, dito aanihin, dito bibilhin.”

The said nationwide campaign joins farmers, consumers, policy makers, and even the private sector to foster a rice self-sufficient Philippines. Moreover, IRRI being a non-profit organization also extend its support to the government for better rice production. “IRRI does develop new rice varieties,” told Sophie Clayton, IRRI Public Relations Manager. In fact, with their new varieties, they have assessed an additional P2,180.00 income of farmers per hectare per year. “This helps the national economic figures as well,” she added.

NYR 2013 aims to make every Filipinos RICEponsible. We can make it happen, right?

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