Opposition Sen. Chiz Escudero yesterday said the government's rice-import dependent policy will only continue to weaken the country's agricultural sector and further entrench poverty in the countryside.
"We have become the world's biggest rice importer. This administration appears hell-bent in keeping the title by importing a record P59 billion pesos worth of rice this year. This nearsighted approach to food security is deplorable. If the alleged overpricing of rice imports are true, then these deals can only be described as unconscionable" he said.
"What we must do is boost domestic rice production by giving farmers incentives. Another way to lessen dependence on imported rice is to plant other grains that we may be able to barter for rice. We just cannot continue importing rice and be at the mercy of suppliers," he said.
Escudero said his estimates show that the government may have lost 5.7 billion to 13.1 billion pesos in kickbacks in the importation of 1.5 million tons of rice from Vietnam early this year.
He said that the alleged kickbacks are more than enough to pay for the P4.5 billion budget for farm-to-market roads and P3.3 billion allocated for the purchase of fertilizers in 2009.
Escudero also said the report by Oxfam International that rice production in the country would fall from 50 to 70 percent by 2020 should spur the next administration to reverse this rice-import dependent policy.
"We have more than enough time to mitigate, if not prevent, this nightmare scenario from happening. We will not be able to lift most of our rural communities out of poverty if we continue to neglect agriculture," he said.
According to the Oxfam report, rice-producing countries will be hit hard by climate change. It said that farm yields will drop by an average of 10 percent for every one-degree Celsius rise in temperature.