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Everybody rise for rice once more

Column box-DR. JESUS LIM ARRANZA

A wise man once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The unfolding events today affecting the price and supply of some agricultural products like onion, remind me of a similar predicament in the country five years ago involving the price and supply of rice.

Rice is not only a staple food in the Philippines. For most Filipinos, it is essential for survival. As the source of over 70 percent of caloric intake in Asia, rice packs life-sustaining carbohydrates at a price all Filipinos can afford, including the poor. Even if a significant number of Filipinos have changed their eating habits by consuming less rice for health reasons, the country’s growing population still rely mostly on rice for their survival.

I wrote in my column before that the spiraling price of rice and depleting stock inventory threaten the social and economic fabric of the Filipino nation. I also pointed out that old farming techniques that result in low rice production output per hectare are adversely affecting the very lives of Filipinos.

As the nation is being threatened by another rice crisis, I would like to reiterate an earlier call for all Filipinos to rise for rice. Get involved and help the country’s poor farming communities improve their rice production output, if only to help beef up the country’s rice supply. An impending rice crisis is a concern not only of the government, but also of every Filipino who have the power to help, so we can avoid the pain of a rice shortage.

I am therefore appealing to all cause oriented, religious, professional and business groups, including all civic organizations in the country, regardless of the nature of their organization, roots and origins, to take action. For example, these groups can adopt poor farming communities to help our local farmers improve their harvest. We made this call before when the country was facing a rice crisis. We’re making this call again as the nation is being threatened by an impending rice crisis.

If all of us work together, we can help provide poor farming communities with the needed farm inputs, such as certified hybrid seeds and fertilizers. We can also help them modernize their farming techniques, among others. Under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture, we can help identify those with existing irrigation systems and palay drying facilities that are still facing the challenge of low rice productivity per hectare. The DA can help in identifying these beneficiary communities.

The country’s average rice-production output is now placed at 80 cavans per hectare. However, with the right certified hybrid seeds, fertilizers and farming technique, this production output can be doubled, if not tripled, as tested and proven during the time of Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap. Rice production per hectare then reached as high as 300 cavans per hectare.

On a need basis, concerned individuals and groups can help poor farming communities to rise from hopelessness and help them become self-reliant and improve their harvest. But to change the mindset of farmers from the dole-out mentality, and to help instill in them the value of hard work and self-respect, they will have to pay their benefactors back whatever amount was used in helping them improve their production. I propose a staggered and liberal payment scheme.

The country’s traditional farming method and spiraling cost of agricultural inputs hurt the country’s poor farmers the most. This vulnerable and marginalized sector is virtually helpless from the effects of the volatility of rice prices and supply. And while there may be some private corporations interested to help these farmers, the procedures may, however, be complicated and take some time to implement.

I believe that private individuals or groups can immediately send help to these poor farmers. With many poor families eating rice spiked with salt twice a day, the need for everybody to rise for rice to help improve the country’s rice-production output is not only compelling, but immediate, as well.

The country’s rice crisis reminds me of my advocacy against smuggling. In one of the Senate hearings about rice smuggling, my testimony identifying Davidson Bangayan as the same person as David Tan, the suspected leader of a big-time rice-smuggling syndicate, led to the prosecution of Tan. My testimony was even corroborated by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself, who was then the Mayor of Davao City. Duterte happened to be in that Senate hearing, as well. However, I’m still wondering what happened to the rice-smuggling case against Bangayan, a.k.a. David Tan.

Indeed, the current rice crisis is a very sensitive and emotional issue, for it strikes into the very heart and stomach of poor Filipinos. As concerned Filipinos, let us, therefore, stand up and rise for rice, if only to help save a nation and countless Filipinos from hunger, by helping poor farming communities improve their harvest.

As FPI Chairman, I believe that with the help of the officers and members of the Federation, spearheaded by FPI President Alberto Lina, the program to help poor farmers will help bolster the country’s food security.

As I said before, we also warmly welcome the participation of non-FPI members, as it is my belief that we can all help mitigate the impact of a food crisis, if not avoid it altogether.

It is with pleasure that I make this announcement: The FPI will jumpstart this campaign of helping our rice farmers. The Federation of Philippine Industries will sponsor a big tract of land in Nueva Ecija for this purpose, and to help President Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr. fulfill his dream for the Philippines to attain rice sufficiency.

In closing, let me share this famous Kennedy quotation. In his January 20, 1961 inaugural address as the 35th US president, the late John F. Kennedy said this about helping the poor: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

Dr. Jesus Lim Arranza is the chairman of the Federation of Philippine Industries and Fight Illicit Trade; a broad-based, multisectoral movement intended to protect consumers, safeguard government revenues and shield legitimate industries from the ill effects of smuggling.

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