The price of palay
Rice prices have plunged as low as 12 Php per kilo, crushing Filipino farmers who are forced to settle for dirt-cheap prices just to make ends meet.
RA 11203, otherwise known as the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), took effect last March 5, 2019, ending the government’s limit on rice importations in the Philippines. This allowed foreign traders to flood local markets with a surplus of cheap imported rice without tariffs, driving rice prices so low that Filipino farmers were forced to sell their produce at a net loss.
As the RTL opened the Philippines to importation from Southeast Asian countries, it stripped state regulation on imports leaving control in the hands of the private sector. This completely sabotaged any efforts to stabilize the rice market, buffer producer-consumer welfare, and support attempts in ensuring food security and safety for all. After the RTL was ratified, the Philippines surpassed China, a country with 13 times its population, as the world’s biggest rice importer. In 2019 alone, the country imported nearly three million tons of imported rice. Just in the past year, rice producers lost an estimated Php 80 billion due to the low palay prices caused by the RTL.
This law directly affects not only farmers, but also agricultural workers and retailers. In its first year, the RTL has already caused the displacement of NFA employees and some 90,000 rice retailers nationwide. Milling, animal feed, biomass and construction industries in the country are also at risk. The harms of this bill, disastrous enough on its own, are only amplified by the fact that the Philippine agricultural sector has long been underfunded and underdeveloped. Farmers have never had it good in this country, but this bill has made things go from bad to worse.
The time has come for the government to step in and give its ailing peasant farmer class the treatment it deserves. Increasing locally grown rice procurement and subsidizing the agricultural sector could, to some extent, reform trade practices that impoverish small-scale farmers. However, this will not be enough. Instead of thinly-veiled neoliberal policies that only serve to fulfill the interests of an elite few under the guise of globalization and development, genuine agrarian reform (GAR) that puts the interests of the peasantry at the forefront of national progress must be pursued. The RTL is just another manifestation of imperialist desire to hinder GAR, and in turn, the development of nationalized local industries in a gross and continuing attempt to cripple the already-struggling local economy, driving the Philippines deeper into overwhelming foreign dependency with its cohorts in the government.
National industrialization, which will enable greater mobility and stable work opportunities for our scientists, researchers, and engineers in the Philippines, will only be made possible with GAR. The development of the agricultural sector, which entails modernization of agricultural production and the redistribution of land, will provide the raw materials needed to build and develop our local industries until the national level. Struggling for GAR with the Filipino peasantry is thus part and parcel of our duties and goals as scientists, as national industrialization furthers investment into research and development and, overall, progress in the field of science and technology.
The RTL is just one of the many outstandingly backwards policies that have been implemented by the government under the false pretense of development. But development that leaves out the millions of rice farmers in the country and the millions more that rely upon them is an empty, irrelevant sort of development that can be seen on economic reports and news headlines, but not felt.
A prosperous agricultural sector is an excellent foundation for inclusive and meaningful development; this is why nations like the United States and Indonesia heavily subsidize their farmers. The Philippines can take a page from their book; the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill or GARB, which was introduced in the 17th Congress of the Philippines in 2016, aims to empower farmers and bring wealth to the agricultural sector.
The Philippines is a rapidly developing economy; as beneficiaries of that growth, we are responsible for how it shapes this nation. Will we become just another case study in how late-stage capitalism makes otherwise prosperous nations fall victim to the ills of wealth inequality? If so, then all we need to do is stay on our current path. But if we want to build a nation where development is for everyone, then genuine agrarian reform is an excellent first step. The choice is ours; if we don’t choose soon, then the choice will be made for us.