Allow all food imports but give tariffs to affected farmers—SHARP EDGES by JAKE J. MADERAZO
Whenever food prices increase, the government cites “insufficient local production” by our farmers, whether rice, sugar, onions, garlic and others. Consumers complain about dwindling incomes, inflation goes up while smuggling and price manipulation flourish. The law of supply and demand becomes a convenient excuse. But when the government decides on the importation, affected farmers and nationalists cry loudest when we buy food imports from Thailand, Vietnam, or China.
We are already 114 M in population and almost always, there will never be enough rice, onions, or any agricultural product, like pork, beef, or fish, for everybody. The truth of the matter, we may never become food self-sufficient and, therefore, will always rely on importations. As the President said, we are in a severe food emergency crisis.
On the other hand, our farmers cannot be blamed because of the continued lack of support from different administrations of the past. Not only that, there is also still no coherent country plan to improve our agricultural output. First, the continued delay of the Land Use Law fails to identify and protect farmlands. And second, the dream of modernized agriculture is becoming harder to attain.
Worldwide, governments are trying to find the right balance between the higher cost of food sufficiency against food security concerns. And what happens now to our future demands for food, agriculture, and fisheries products in a sustainable manner?
Recently I had an interview with Alexander Escucha, a UP Economist who recently retired from the banking sector. He said the past Duterte administration may have stumbled on a solution to this vicious cycle of high food prices and dwindling food production. He referred to the controversial Rice Tariffication law (RA 11203), which established the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) from tariff revenues from imported rice. A yearly appropriation of P10-B is given to farmers for farm mechanization, seed development credit, and extension services.
As a result, rice prices went down together with food inflation, and at the same time, farmers increased their palay production by 3.5 percent. Rice smuggling went down, and cartels disappeared. Of course, it will take time to modernize rice production fully, but funding P10-B a year from tariffs is a great help.
Now, there is an abnormal increase in onion prices even as the local harvest season is very near. The President said he was forced to import 21,060 metric tons of red and yellow onion because the local supply was not enough. This correct but palliative move will only lower its prices and placate onion consumers. It will push deeper into poverty thousands of onion farmers from Cagayan Valley or Bongabon, Nueva Ecija-our so-called Onion Capital.
Why not give these people a share from imported onion tariffs so they can also modernize their production like rice farmers.?
Why another Onion Tariffication law? Or Sugar Tariffication law to modernize planting to processing? Or Fisheries Tariffication Law, where fishermen can build modern fishing boats and compete in our inland and outer seas? Or Livestock, poultry and coffee?
Suppose the government seriously wants a sustainable balance between food prices and security. In that case, all tariffs for every imported agricultural product coming into the country must directly benefit the affected farming sector. On the other hand, the farmers must use this money conscientiously and judiciously to improve their craft, modernize operations and compete effectively against international farmers.
There is nothing wrong with imported food if they give us the necessary tariffs and money. Hongkong relies on 90 percent of imported food for its 7.2M people with only 7 square kilometers of farmlands. They are so modernized that they are part of local tourism. Same with Singapore, where they import 90 percent of their food from 170 countries. Also, food farms there are modernized.
My point here is that our government can stabilize food prices and, at the same time, lower food inflation. I believe that we must allow the importation of all agricultural products where there is a shortage of local supply. This will stop smuggling and decrease food cartels and price manipulators on the retail side.
But most importantly, the affected farmers should receive the tariff money to help them modernize and make their farming operations easier, more profitable and sustainable.
QC Mayor Joy Belmonte: Best NCR Mayor with 150+ achievement awards
If I created an award for the most outstanding public official in the country for the past year, I would give it to QC Mayor Joy Belmonte.
From the Seal of Good Governance from the DILG, the yearly highest “unqualified opinion from the Commission on Audit, the indefatigable mayor Joy Belmonte has more than 150 awards from other public and private award-giving bodies.
Being a QCitizen myself, I’ve witnessed her magnificent “social reform” initiative to improve the lives of her constituents. Thousands of families are being given start-up money for their businesses. Thousands of city scholars getting free tuition fees and stipends. Workers and residents get free rides from QC buses, a computerized business permit system for traders and private workers. Adequate medical care in more than 60 health centers all over the city and immediate assistance thru hotline 122.
There is so much to tell on Quezon city’s march to progress, with Mayor Joy Belmonte leading the way. But at this point on behalf of all QCitizens , maraming salamat Mayora Joy.
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