for rice farmers can make a turn for the better. It will, however, largely
depend on which road the Estrada Administration will take.
"We're not putting great expectations for (President-elect Joseph) Estrada to make radical changes (simply because he has) not much track record (in agriculture) to speak of," said Tom Villarin of nongovernment organization (NGO) Kaisahan.
Political image aside, what are Mr. Estrada's potentials in delivering the goods?
"Mr. Estrada is lucky," said Roger Concepcion, director of the Bureau of Soils and Water Management.
Largely due to the Ramos administration's thrust on improving irrigation, the country is close to achieving self-sufficiency in rice, Mr. Concepcion told BusinessWorld. Next year, imports of the staple may not even reach half a million metric tons (MT) - assuming his projection that total irrigated rice lands will produce at least nine million MT.
There are about 1.43 million hectares of rice lands with functioning irrigation facilities, planted to new hybrid rice varieties, protected by the integrated pest management program, nurtured by balanced fertilization and taken care of by synchronous planting.
All these were implemented under outgoing Agriculture Secretary Salvador H. Escudero III's term and, if Mr. Estrada opts to continue this mix, rice self-sufficiency will be attainable, Mr. Concepcion said.
Thus, virtually half the job for the incoming government has been done or has been initiated at the very least. It is, therefore, likely the Estrada administration will succeed in pushing the rice productivity goal to the finish line, as can be gleaned from the sentiments of NGO leaders.
The initial positive reception was triggered by Mr. Estradas declaration to make food security and agricultural development his administrations centerpiece program.
Hes the only President to have stressed that in a period of globalization, said Omi Royandoyan, executive director of the vigilant NGO Philippine Peasant Institute.
One first sign the next administration can provide the continuity as regards the rice self-sufficiency program was its choice of William Dar to become the next Agriculture Secretary. Coming from a research organization (Philippine Council for Agriculture Resources Research and Development), Dar will surely concentrate on production, Mr. Conception said. That will be a logical next step following efforts to increase the number of irrigated rice lands under Mr. Escuderos tenure, he added.
The fact that the outgoing administration laid the groundwork for rice self-sufficiency is a relief to its successor whose main priority on food security will be to ensure Filipinos will be spared from the adverse effects of a volatile world market.
Early in the decade, total volume of rice traded worldwide was approximately 5% of total production.
The importance of rice production and consumption as a barometer of growth and food security in the region originates from the historical preference of the regions populations to rice as a staple food, said Francisco Lara, Jr., executive director of MODE, Inc., and NGO.
A study by agriculture policy analyst Leonardo Gonzales shows only a few countries in Asia, the worlds main rice producer, registered production growth rates that are higher than annual population growth rates. The rest, including the Philippines, showed a production downtrend in the 1985-1993 period.
To protect local consumers from fluctuating world market prices, the government needs to be self-sufficient in rice.
Simulations by economists Cristina David and Arsenio Balisacan in 1993 indicated rice imports reaching 1.047 million MT in the year 2000. This projection assumed, among others, an annual population growth of 1.9% for rural and 2.9% for urban areas, and low productivity.
On the other hand, they projected that with increased productivity, imports will only be 403,000 MT in the same year.
Rice imports no longer needed by 2000 if policies are right
Barring any major weather disturbances such
as El Niño, the Philippines is likely to experience low net imports
or none at all by the year 2000 if the Estrada administration takes
off from where its predecessor is leaving, so says Roger Concepcion, director
of the Bureau of Soils and Water Management.
Romulo T. Luib
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