OUR rice supply in the Philippines is a perennial source of worry because rice is the basic part of any Filipino meal. We import hundreds of thousands of tons of rice every year, mostly from Vietnam and Thailand, because, despite their best efforts, Filipino farmers cannot raise as much rice at the same low costs as Vietnamese and Thai farmers.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, panic-buying of rice and other food products has been reported at supermarkets. There is fear that many are hoarding rice supplies in the expectation that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is not ending anytime soon.
We recall that in 2018, market prices started rising in January, finally reaching a high of 6.7 percent inflation in September. It was stopped through a Rice Tariffication Law which ended all quantitative limitations on rice imports. The ensuing imports kept rice prices down and, because rice is a major part of every family’s marketing, market prices in general also went down.
This year, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vietnam, the world’s third biggest rice exporter, has temporarily suspended export sales to protect domestic supplies, as there is now a drought in the Mekong Delta. Thailand, the world’s second biggest rice exporter, has assured that it has enough supplies despite a recent drought.
The world’s biggest rice producers and consumers are China and India and both and have assured they have adequate supplies for their people.
There is, therefore, no fear of a shortage of rice this year, according to an official of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The COVID-19 pandemic may have caused some panic-buying in some supermarkets and hoarding in the face of the continued quarantine in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon, but an adequate rice supply is assured this year.
All this is good news for consumers. COVID-19 may have caused so many deaths and disrupted many national economies, but it has not affected rice production and supply. This should be welcome news to Filipino consumers.
We continue, however, to hope that Filipino farmers will one day be able to raise their level of rice production capability so we need not import most of our needs from Thailand and Vietnam.
We have the land and we have developed high-yielding rice varieties. We just need to develop more extensive irrigation, step up mechanization in our farms, provide more post-harvest facilities like storage and milling, and assist our farmers in marketing.