Rice as an issue in next year’s election
By Willie N. Ng
Manila Bulletin, December 2, 2003

PRESIDENTIAL aspirants are outdoing one another, batting out new versions of the traditional promises to combat corruption, crime, unemployment, poverty, and other national ills unsolved in the past decades.

Can such reworked promises win votes? Familiarity breeds contempt and such promises, revived and reimposed every three years on the helpless voters, have made them derisive: “What, again?’’

Hence the need to call in celebrated movie actors and singers to lure their fans to political rallies where, after the entertainment, the audiences feel obliged to listen to the speeches.

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Why not try something new, rice production, for example?

Untold billions have been sunk into land reform for a generation. But farmers have yet to produce reasonably priced rice, and not enough of it.

Which is unfair to factory workers who should be entitled to reasonably priced food from those who have benefited from the ceaseless deluge of government funds.

Yearly, we have to import huge shipments of rice. From whatever country such rice comes from, it is cheaper than ours.’’

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Agence France Presse reported the other day: “Despite playing a key role in Asia’s Green Revolution, the Philippines may never attain rice sufficiency and could be better off importing cereals.’’

That is the opinion of David Dawe, an American economist assigned to the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños.

The Los Baños research center developed new rice varieties which has boosted yields dramatically in other countries since the mid-1960’s. The Philippines, on the other hand, has imported rice, cheaper than its own, for the last 35 years – except for three.

Dawe said “the Philippines would be slightly richer if it didn’t focus on self-sufficiency.’’ He said that areas such as Bangladesh, Thailand, and Vietnam have major river systems and rainfall patterns suitable for rice production. We don’t have those. And we have a shortage of arable land.

This issue of rice production should have a place in the platform of a serious-minded presidential aspirant.

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