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Our goal of rice self-suffiency remains

THE last administration used to say that the Philippine agriculture has bright prospects in ASEAN economic integration, specifically with its corn production to meet the needs of the region’s livestock industry. Corn is the Philippines’ champion crop in the ASEAN integration scheme, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said, and the Philippines expects to export 50 percent of its corn production to other ASEAN nations.

It is rice, however, which we see as the most important Philippine agricultural product as it is the principal staple of Filipinos. Early in the previous administration, the DA set a long-range plan for rice self-sufficiency. Its scientists and researchers developed high-yielding rice varieties resistant to floods, droughts, and common plant diseases in the country.

It was never able to achieve the goal of self-sufficiency, however. Up to the last months of the administration, the Philippines had to import hundreds of thousands of metric tons of rice principally from Vietnam and Thailand to avoid a shortage in the market.

Now that we have a new administration, new Secretary of Agriculture Emmanuel Piñol is moving early to achieve that goal of rice self-sufficiency, focusing on three areas of concern – fast and effective transfer of technology, easy access to financing, and more efficient marketing of the farmers’ produce. He has also identified a critical need that is holding back increased production – inadequate irrigation facilities.

This week, with the start of the 17th Congress, Secretary Piñol has begun to lobby for the implementation of free irrigation for the nation’s rice farmers and among the early supporters of this plan are Senators Franklin Drilon, Loren Legarda, and Cynthia Villar.

The Philippines is blessed with abundant rainfall, but its irrigation facilities are way behind those of the world’s principal rice-exporting countries Vietnam and Thailand which have networks of dams and channels supplying water year round – not just during the rainy season – to their farmers. In contrast, Secretary Piñol found, most of our rice farms do not have regular service and our farmers are charged irrigation fees which the government uses to pay the salaries of officials and employees of the National Irrigation Administration.

Thus, he said, his recommendation No. 1 is to provide free irrigation to farmers and achieve this by 2017. Free irrigation water, he said, must not be merely the political decision of one President but a policy of government, whoever is in Malacañang.

We look forward to the implementation of these plans of the Department of Agriculture. With the determination that the new Duterte administration has shown in its pursuit of programs for the countgrey and the cooperation of the new Congress, we may finally see the realization of the goal of rice self-sufficiency for our country.