MANILA, Philippines?It's the population too, stupid.
To avert a rice crisis, the government should not only address the dwindling hectarage of rice lands, but also arrest the expanding population, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said on Sunday.
Lagman, chair of the House committee on appropriations, said that the population growth rate of 2.36 percent "outpaces'' the annual growth in rice production of 1.9 percent recorded from 1990 to 2000.
"The country?s inordinately huge population growth rate (PGR) threatens food security and aggravates the looming rice shortage,'' the lawmaker, an advocate of population control, said in a statement.
"The politics of rice is a numbers' game -- the number of mouths to feed and the number on the price tag,'' he added.
The population in 2007 was pegged at 88.7 million, and is projected to rise to 90.4 million in 2008.
For starters, Lagman said the government should prioritize the approval of a House bill on reproductive health, responsible parenthood, family planning and population management, which he authored.
"No amount of bountiful harvests can adequately feed the growing multitude of Filipinos,'' he said.
Experts blamed the dwindling rice lands, caused by the conversion of these lands into subdivisions and golf courses, for the shortage of rice supply in the market.
But officials of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) admitted that rice production had been increasing, but could not catch up with growing population.
Lagman further pointed out that while it had high rice production, the Philippines would have to import rice because of its growing population.
"While the Philippines ? rice production is almost twice that of Thailand, the latter?s PGR (population growth rate) is only 1.4 percent,'' he said.
"Thailand?s lower population growth rate makes it a rice exporter, while the Philippines, which has a much bigger rice production, is a rice importer,'' he added.
The lawmaker said that Filipinos consumed less rice per capita compared with nationals of other countries with similar levels of income and economic development because rice in the Philippines was costly.
In 2001, rice consumption per capita totaled 109 kilograms in Thailand, 149 kg in Indonesia, 150 kg in Bangladesh, 165 kg in Vietnam, 169 kg in Cambodia, 213 kg in Myanmar, and only 95 kg in the Philippines, he said.
"The higher price of rice in the country results in less rice consumption and poorer nutrition especially among children,'' Lagman said.
Amid calls for a moratorium on land conversion, Palawan Rep. Abraham Mitra reminded the government that there has been a law that banned land conversion.
Executive Order No. 363, issued in 1997, specifically bans the conversion of irrigated and irrigable rice lands. It remains in effect, according to Mitra.
The lawmaker said the law should only be "dusted off,'' and updated to "ure the official amnesia of the law.''
"As early as 10 years ago, we have already put a firewall around agriculturally productive areas so these won?t be breached by those who would like to convert them for other uses,? he said.