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PhilRice seeks competitive rice yield

MANILA, Philippines — The government should first focus on producing rice at a more competitive price to survive in the ASEAN market before pushing for 100 percent self-sufficiency, according to a socio-economist.

The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) said the country must produce a national average rice yield of six metric tons (MT) per hectare at a production cost of P8 per kilogram (kg).

Currently, the Philippines lags behind other ASEAN rice producing countries as local production only averages  3.87 MT per hectare at a seemingly high cost of P12 per kg.

“With the ASEAN integration, the Philippines is confronted with a different economic scenario. Targeting rice self-sufficiency is no longer enough,” PhilRice senior socio-economist Flordeliza Bordey said.

“The target, supported by strategic government interventions in the medium term will make our farmers competitive and sustain the nation’s rice industry in the long run,” she added.

The agricultural policy expert emphasized that targeting a higher yield with lower production cost is never just a question of self-sufficiency but is about maintaining the profitability of rice farmers and increasing their competitiveness.

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As the quantitative restriction (QR) on rice is lifted, importers can bring in rice from ASEAN member-countries as long as they see it profitable with the 35 percent tariff as the only protection for the Philippines.

Studies showed that imported rice from Thailand and Vietnam amounted to P31 and P27 per kg, respectively.

“This scenario is favorable to consumers, especially for poor families, but this will have a negative impact on the income of rice farmers as lower prices of imported rice will also reduce the price of locally-produced rice,” Bordey said.

While some experts think the six MT per hectare target is quite ambitious, the agency is confident this is doable with strategic interventions in place.

The DA is making farm production credit more accessible through its loan program to encourage farmers to adopt high-quality hybrid seeds, apply proper amount of fertilizers, and engage farm machine service providers.

Beyond a medium term plan, however, experts say that efficiency in the marketing level aside from production is necessary to sustain the country’s competitiveness.

“Farmers who incur higher production costs and are farming in less favorable areas where it is more difficult to increase rice yields, may go out of the rice business,” Bordey said, emphasizing that the  government should provide safety nets.

These safety nets include training on rice-based farming system for the landed farmers so they can venture into other agriculture activities to complement rice.

For the landless workers, skills training on farm machine operation, carpentry, or masonry can be good options to allow farmers to find jobs other than being farm workers.

Bordey said safety nets would make it easier for farmers to transition to more fruitful economic activities aside from rice.

“If our farmers can produce enough rice for all Filipinos at competitive prices, then our country will achieve sustainable self-sufficiency in the long run,” she added.

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