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RICE CRISIS

Insufficient water stunting agricultural growth – DA chief

emmanuel pinol

Department of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol. EDWIN BACASMAS/INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Rice supply in the country is ample, beefed up by imports, according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.

But water supply is insufficient, impeding the growth of the agriculture sector, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said on Monday.

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Roque reiterated President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement that there might be rice traders manipulating the supply by hoarding rice to create an artificial shortage.

“The President has said we have ample supply. The problem is those taking advantage by hiding these supplies. The President promised that we will make an example out of them,” Roque said.

He pointed out that the government had authorized the importation of rice from other countries to flood the market to bring down the prices of rice, citing the recent authorization to import 500,000 metric tons of rice and the order to import more.

The Palace official made the remarks as the price of rice reached new highs in August, with regular-milled rice costing P43.86 a kilo and well-milled rice reaching P47.12 a kilo.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that prices were higher in some regions and provinces.

Roque assured the public that the President – cognizant of the fact that the poor had elected him – was taking steps to address the so-called rice woes.

“Do not worry, the President feels what you feel and he is undertaking steps to address this. We will feel its effects soon,” Roque said.

He added that the government was considering a proposal to designate an officer at the Bureau of Customs whose sole task would be to process and authorize the issuance of import permits for rice.

Senate hearing

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In the Senate, Sen. Cynthia Villar was suddenly on the defensive after Piñol lamented that the lack of water—not land—was impeding agricultural growth.

Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, seemed to have misheard the secretary blaming the conversion of agricultural land into other uses for the low productivity.

“We need three elements to produce food. Sunlight, water, land. We need water,” Piñol said on Monday at the Senate hearing on the agency’s budget for 2019.

Piñol was cut by Villar, who then went on that there were a lot of unutilized land in the country, especially in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Land developers

The senator added that land developers should not be blamed for the industry’s slow growth. “Those who convert [idle] lands to commercial, residential and industrial uses are in cities and capital towns,” she said.

“Why are they getting the ire when there are a lot of rural areas that are not being utilized? If we don’t have houses or factories what would happen to us?” Villar asked.

“Let’s not make this a reason why we cannot achieve our target,” she added. “Let’s not give reasons that are irrelevant.”

Villar noted that the agriculture department should not insist on irrigation, as there were already 1.7 million hectares of irrigated lands across the country.

She said the Philippines could not compete with the irrigation available in Vietnam, since the latter had the Mekong River to depend on.

Instead, Villar said the agency should focus on providing mechanization and good seeds to local producers.

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TAGS: Cynthia Villar, Department of Agriculture, Emmanuel Piñol, Harry Roque, rice hoarding, Rice Supply, Rodrigo Duterte, water supply
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