Gloom hovers over Ecija rice harvest as DA hit over figuresBy Anselmo Roque
Inquirer Central Luzon
SCIENCE CITY OF MUNOZ—It’s harvest time in Nueva Ecija but farmer Wilfredo Bernardo is unhappy as he watched his newly harvested crop being threshed.
“The harvest is lower as the plant lodged and some of the grains deteriorated,” he said.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala repeatedly gave assurances that the target production of 20 million metric tons will be achieved by the end of the year despite testimony given by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics saying total production is likely to reach only a little more than 18 million MT.
At a hearing of two House committees—agriculture and food security—Rep. Gary Alejano (Magdalo) pointed to what he said was an apparent attempt by the agriculture department to doctor figures to show the rice sufficiency targets are achievable.
Alejano quoted government figures as saying that per capita consumption of rice has gone down from 119 kilograms per person to 115 kg per person. “It’s like if you can’t pass the grade, lower the passing grade,” said Alejano in a statement.
Bernardo said traders are buying his harvest at P15 a kilogram instead of the P17 to P18 a kg offered a week ago.
He said he has no other recourse but to sell his entire harvest from a three-hectare farm in Barangay Gabaldon here as he could not dry the grains.
Bernardo blamed heavy rains the past few days and the prevailing cloudy sky for his woes.
In past wet season cropping, Bernardo said he used to harvest an average of 90 sacks a hectare. Now it is down to 75 sacks a hectare, he said.
In farms next to his, six farmers were seen on Wednesday harvesting the lodged crop. They said they were the only ones responding to a call to harvest the crop in about 30 hectares of rice farms. “The others wouldn’t like to harvest the crop. They said the task strains their hip,” a farmer said.
He said they have to endure the pain and the difficulty of harvesting the lodged crop as they have asked for loans from farm owners in the last few months.
“We will not be able to ask for loans if we will ignore their call to harvest their crop,” he said. One of the harvesters, Christian Aguila, 27, sold earlier in the day his one-sack share for his labor. He was paid P13.50 a kg of the fresh harvest.
He was told by the rice trader that the quality of the grain was not good that was why the buying price is lower. Aguila said he would buy rice supplied by the National Food Authority (NFA), sold at P28 a kg, as he would not be able to dry and mill his palay for the needs of his family.
He said he hoped he could buy at least 5 kg of NFA rice, the sale of which local retailers had limited to a kilogram per customer a day.
According to Aguila, there is no limit in buying commercial rice here. But he said he could not afford its price—P33 to P45 a kg.
Bernardino Bautista, village chief of Gabaldon, said a large portion of the 380 hectares of palay farms in his village had been affected by heavy rain in the past weeks.
“There is at least a 20-percent loss in harvest,” he said.