Thursday, April 03, 2008

"Give Us This Day Our Daily Rice"

These are times when the prayer “Our Father” becomes most meaningful especially when we pray “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…Give us this day our daily bread.”

In the past, our local rice industry used to be the backbone of our country’s economy. That is how God was helping us with our daily bread. With our rice technology we were helping countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan, and Indonesia how to produce more rice for their tables. We had both the advancing technology and more than sufficient domestic production. Farmers’ sons and daughters were fed from and educated through the rice farms.

Today, ironically, even lamentably, because of unsatisfactory production of rice, lack of credit support for our small rice farmers and lack of infrastructure development, our rice farms can not support for the needs of growing population. Add to this the conversion of farms into housing subdivisions, commercial centers and golf courses, which certainly are profitable for the individual owners, but not for the needs of the greater number. Today, in response to a rice crisis, probably foreseen and expected, but government has its eyes on wrong or lesser priorities, we are forced to import close to a million metric tons of rice since 1996, and this year imported rice will be more than two million metric tons. And from where? Ironically but gratefully, from countries who may have learned the skill of rice production from us: Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan, even United States.

Yes, we will have rice on our tables but only for those who can afford to buy with 18 pesos per kilogram. We not only will have limited rice. Our people will have also limited buying power. And who will be profiting from this arrangement? Unscrupulous traders and government officials? The question keeps coming up – whatever happened to the Php 729 million fertilizer funds?

Rice importation is a response to a rice crisis. But there must be limit to importations. It should not be the permanent arrangement. The lesser the imports the better! We encourage the improvement of local production with genuine government support at all levels of production with the end in view of restoring to agriculture and to our rice producers ad farmers the assistance that they deserve to achieve genuine food security and self-sufficiency. Some policies are needed to reverse the trend from over dependence on importation to making the rice production truly the backbone of our economy, as it is in other countries of Southeast Asia.

We will not expect miracles to solve the rice crisis. The miracle will have to be, God helping us, form our common efforts – government, farmers, rice producers and farm-owners – to produce our “daily rice.” Other countries in Asia are doing it. We can do it.

Archbishop of Jaro
CBCP President