The Philippines importing rice was unheard of when I was growing up in the 70s. In fact, what I remember is that our country was exporting rice to other countries in Asia.
The present plight of our Filipino farmers having to compete in price with imported rice is a sad, sad state of affairs that we must do something about.
Although not directly about rice production, I remembered a story about the sad state of Philippine Agriculture, told me by one of my best friends, Atty. Patricia “Pinky” Nazareno, about her father, former Department of Agriculture Assistant Secretary Lino Nazareno who also used to teach at UP Los Baños, our country’s foremost educational institution in agriculture.
Asec. Nazareno was on an official trip to Thailand (or was it Indonesia?) when he visited an orange orchard that implemented all the latest technologies at the time which raised the production to area ratio of the farm to unprecedented levels.
Amazed at the highly efficient implementation of proper and effective agricultural techniques and mechanization, Asec. Nazareno asked the people in charge where they got the know-how to do all that they did. One of the lead scientists of the farm raised his hand and, apparently recognizing Asec. Nazareno as a former teacher, proudly asserted “I’M A UPLB GRAD, SIR!”.
According to Pinky, Tito Lino was aghast and caught undecided on whether to be proud that UPLB alumni achieved such success or be ashamed that foreigners schooled in the Philippines were able to use what they learned from us in their home nations to far outpace our country in agricultural prowess.
Something must be seriously wrong somewhere when we have all the best technologies and research in agriculture, particularly with regards rice production seeing that the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is also based in UP Los Baños, but we are seriously lagging behind in production to the detriment of our Filipino farmers.
The Masagana 99 program of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, using one of the best rice varieties produced by IRRI at the time, was a project that enabled the Philippines to exponentially increase our rice production to the extent that our country was able to export rice to other countries.
From what I have learned about it, it eventually failed, not because of the sound science behind it but because of the perennial cancer in Philippine society, our Big “C”, CORRUPTION. The main reasons for the program’s failure were reputed to be the bias in favor of rich landowners as a form of political patronage and the improper application of the program’s credit facilities that left poor farmers in debt.
There you have it, while, of course, there are many other factors to consider, like much needed farm to market roads and the minimization of middle-men in the economic equation, one of the main things that we really have to do to improve the circumstances of small Filipino farmers is to clean up our act so that government programs and funds intended for such farmers will actually benefit them and not the human leeches who are always there to make money by bleeding our country’s coffers dry.
Apart from government, one thing that we can do as Filipinos desiring to help uplift our fellow countrymen, is to buy Filipino meaning that we should, as much as possible, patronize agricultural products produced in the Philippines over imported ones.
One problem though is that we certainly cannot talk to the rice to see if it answers in Pilipino, Bisaya, or some other local dialect. For this reason, maybe Filipino agricultural products should be clearly marked as “PROUDLY FILIPINO” or “AGRI-PINOY” or something like that. I know that some rice varieties are named for their origins, like “Banaybanay Rice” from Davao Oriental, but it would be so much easier if all Philippine made agricultural products had some kind of common marketing mark so that the buying public can immediately know that what they are buying will enrich the pockets of Filipino farmers and not foreign exporters.
As Filipinos, it is our duty and responsibility to do what is right and to collectively act in support of what is Filipino. As we used to swear in allegiance to our motherland, “SISIKAPIN KONG MAGING ISANG TUNAY NA PILIPINO, SA ISIP, SA SALITA AT SA GAWA.”