Friday, April 18, 2008

THE GRAIN HEADACHE: Musing on the Philippine Rice Crisis (Part I)

[I have decided to run a series of entries concerning the present Rice Crisis in the country]

First day of my OJT…well supposedly my first. After the annoying process of obtaining medical clearance I have finally found myself in the comfortable sofa of the department in which I will be spending the whole summer, overlooking the majestic (majestic indeed) view of Mount Maquiling (or Makiling.) I couldn’t blame the doctor for sending me back home to have another X-ray (I can still recite it, APICOLORDOTIC view). It initially sent chills to me but I am more than thankful now to know that I don’t have any abnormalities (‘cause I don’t smoke, I never have asthma or tuberculosis etc…)
My superior is one heck of a scientist. And since what I am about to do for her and for her office would concern rice, I decided as well to ask her about the current situations of rice in the country.
Listed below are some of the questions and answers have passed through in the afternoon that we had that fruitful and hearty conversation.
[Disclaimer: all of the statements that will be found below has passed through my mind and does not, in any way, reflect directly the statements that my superior has discussed to me. I did not take notes when we had the talk and so they may contain a bunch of inaccuracies in which case, all should be blamed on me. Ok? ]

Why is there a rice crisis?
Well, she said that it boils down to the population increase in the country (two point something percent per year if I remember it right). Since the present growth shows exponential in behavior the amount of rice that is being produced is not enough to feed all the mouths of the Filipinos.

What are the factors affecting enough production of rice?
As far I can remember, she said that season in the country affects the production of rice. There are, in general two seasons here, one, the dry season and the other the wet season. Dry season is favored more since there is more sunlight (more radiation?) and so photosynthesis is effected more. But this is in fact favorable only if the needed stuff for the ‘maximum’ production so to speak is at hand – irrigation, fertilizer etc. Although the rainy season gives out a lot of water to splash onto the plants, there is not enough sunlight and hence photosynthesis that is greatly needed for the production of rice. To summarize, dry season + proper irrigation is good as compared to rainy season.

Are there any other factors?
I think there is still. She also said that the availability of arable land is also a factor. Most of the planting lands now are being converted to malls, subdivisions, highways, golf courses etc. which greatly reduces the area of those capable of land that are good for planting rice. And so naturally, I asked: DOES THE GOVERNMENT DO ANYTHING TO PROTECT THOSE LANDS FROM BEING BOUGHT AND CONVERTED INTO SOME OTHER FORM OF USAGE? She told me, rather to my surprise, that IN FACT THE GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS ARE THE ONES WHO APPROVE SUCH CONVERSIONS WHENEVER IT SEEMED FAVORABLE FOR THEM. She cited a town where a past official disapproved of the construction of a certain mall. But later on, when that official was replaced with a new one, the request/bid/proposal was immediately approved. And hence, the mall over what was once a rice field. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

And the notorious…
MIDDLEMEN. The traders. Hell, they are for real as I found out that afternoon. She said that some people, with money tend to buy these three things: oil, gold, and…I forgot the other one. But since they are quite costly, tend turned into rice and stored them. And so, the actual rice produced, meant for the people, is in fact blocked by these middlemen. And when the crisis comes, they would put them out, to be sold in high prices. Ingenious don’t you think? Ha-ha. That really s-cks!

The sad news…
The sad news, as it turns out, is that the government policies seems to be in the brink of leniency. I asked: “Why don’t the farmers just plant more on the dry season since it will be more favorable?” Favorable indeed, but she said that the irrigation is a problem as they lack it. She further added that the government is the one which must attend to such matters. Policies, policies, policies. Well, well, well, at that moment I seemed to realize the slow processes that have been going on in the country today. I was quite saddened by these facts.

Well I went home early after the interview (want an ice cream for a hot afternoon?) but not without those insights into the present rice crisis. I’m looking forward to the things that I would soon be learning from the institute.

[More on this topic…to be continued.]

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