DA chief to reduce rice imports, raise subsidies
Marvyn N. Benaning
5 July 2010
Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala says he is keen on achieving rice sufficiency within his incumbency even if it means overhauling the rice program and splurging on post-harvest facilities, irrigation and farm-to-market roads (FMRs).
Alcala's vow to reduce rice importations substantially comes at a time when the Department of Agriculture (DA) has been importing record levels of rice from Vietnam, Thailand and other countries.
The global rice market has seen a reduction in prices as Vietnam's projected 15 percent loss in output due to El Niño has been proven wrong and India, Pakistan and even African countries have recorded higher yields.
Alcala, who has been successful in establishing and upgrading vegetable trading posts in Quezon, where he served as congressman for two years, also bats for the better farm-to-market roads (FMRs) and irrigation facilities.
He also reiterated his policy to be more open with the media and stressed that there will be no gag order under his watch.
For his part, DA Undersecretary for Operations Joel Rudinas said what the department is doing at the moment is to intensify the establishment of small water impounding projects, noting that farmers themselves have been constructing their own facilities in Northern Luzon and even in tobacco-growing areas of the Ilocos region.
Rudinas told the Bulletin that even with the construction of more than 900 small water impounding facilities nationwide, the DA has to act fast to harvest rainwater and use the same for the dry months.
He said science has to come to the rescue of DA, which means better weather forecasting systems and a thorough assessment of production systems.
An advocate of organic farming, Alcala was largely responsible for the passage of the Organic Agriculture Act, which promotes traditional methods and eschews the use of chemical inputs and fertilizers that degrade the environment.
La Liga Policy Institute has already asked Alcala to use P50 million from the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) Rice Program under Dr. Frisco Malabanan to fund farmer training for organic farming.
On the other hand, Malabanan seeks up to P12.3 billion in subsidies for hybrid rice, which is opposed by Rice Watch, a non-government organization (NGO) that opposes the propagation of hybrids.
Malabanan wants subsidies to continue, arguing that farmers would not produce more rice unless they enjoy seed subsidies.
He argues that on the average, farmers would have to cough up P3,000 per hectare to enjoy better yields from hybrid seeds.
DA documents have shown that hybrid seeds lead to a minimum of 15 percent and maximum of 50 percent growth in yields.
However, the same document showed some provinces perform better than others, which indicates that those with better irrigation facilities have better chances of getting good harvests.
Rudinas says he is backing improved water impounding systems and irrigation facilities that provide 100 percent coverage of rice farms. Critics say government's irrigation projects only serve half of the coverage areas, which translates to only about 20 percent of all rice farms.
|Rice Watch and Action Network|