Rice Crisis: A Combination of Shortages

The Staff of Life
By Peter Wallace
Manila Standard Today

In a crisis, people tend to panic, and there seems little doubt there is a pending crisis on rice today. How this crisis gets handled will be critical to national stability. Much will depend on the President and her ability to guide the response to the crisis smoothly. One of the hallmarks of great leaders is that they are able to think and act rationally when all around them are losing their heads.

There is no question that there is a rice crisis today. But there is question as to what sort of crisis it is. Is there a genuine shortage of rice, or have fast-rising prices led to hoarding creating the appearance of a shortage? My suspicion is that it’s a combination of both.

Rice distributors and traders have shown themselves to be an unscrupulous lot with little moral conscience in the past. So I wouldn’t put it past them at all to be profiteering from the difficult situation today—rather than trying to ease it.

But the real question is: Why did we get into this situation in the first place? Government policy used to be toward self-sufficiency. But the fast-growing population and decimation of rice lands through an ill-considered agrarian reform law, coupled with serious underspending on irrigation systems, farm-to-market roads and general support to farmers, has led to a shrinking in the interest to grow rice. A farmer gets next to nothing from the crop he plants; even gets further into debt to usurious middle men. So why plant rice?...

Government has failed miserably to support this sector and the chickens are coming home to roost.

Maybe this crisis is a good thing. Maybe it’s the signal the government needs to now act more forthrightly. As exemplified by the President’s emergency release of P44 billion to revive the industry. P44 billion, by the way, that wasn’t budgeted, so other things will suffer.

What must now be done is to ensure that the P44 billion actually gets spent on what is intended, not deposited in Joc Joc Bolante’s bank account. Or somebody else’s. Here’s a chance for the President to prove her assertion that she is going to go after the corrupt. Well, here’s a specific case where she can back her words with action...

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