Farmers seek protection from imports

The agriculture and fishery sector, which represents the largest segment of working population in the Philippines, is seeking government support and protection, as the country opens up to competition under the Asean Economic Community.

The AEC envisions a single market and production base, a highly competitive economic region and equitable economic development by end of 2015. In the advent of the integration, the government is increasing efforts to make sure Filipino farmers will not be displaced and, instead, benefit from the integration.

The Agriculture Department, in a bid to protect Filipino rice farmers, is pushing for the extension of the quantitative restriction on rice, which allows the Philippines to limit the volume of imported rice.

The QR extension also aims to protect local farmers and prepare them for the Asean integration next year.  In June 2012, the quantitative restriction on rice expired, prompting the government to request the World Trade Organization Committee on Trade and Goods to extend the rice QR until 2017.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said the quantitative restriction allows the Philippines to limit the volume of rice imports allowed to enter the country. He said the approval of the QR’s extension also serves as a protection for the Filipino farmers.

“If we don’t have a QR, cheaper rice will flood our market and our farmers will suffer. They will stop planting and we don’t want that to happen,” Alcala said.

Alcala said despite of the interventions by the government, Filipino rice farmers were not ready for the Asean integration.  “Filipino  rice  farmers  are  not  yet  ready  for the  Asean integration in  2015  because  our  production cost for palay  is  too  high  compared   to those  spent  by farmers in  other countries  like   Vietnam and  Thailand,” Alcala said.

He said one way of addressing the high cost of rice production was to adopt farm mechanization and build postharvest facilities.  A study conducted by the Philippine Rice Research Institute showed while rice growers in the Philippines spent P10 to produce a kilogram of palay, farmers in Vietnam and Thailand only spent P5 and P8, respectively, to produce the same volume.

PhilRice linked the high cost of production in the Philippines to the highly manual operations, from land preparation to harvesting as well as the cost of money being used by the farmers.

A farmers group said despite the efforts of the government, the Asean integration would largely affect the country’s farmers.  Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura executive director Jayson Cainglet said that while there was no question the Philippines and other countries continued to support the agriculture sector, the Philippines failed to establish the necessary protection for local farmers.

“There are more downsides than upsides since the government failed to establish the necessary protection for our local farmers. The cost of production here in the Philippines is way much higher compared to other countries and we are not getting the kind of subsidies other farmers are getting,” said Cainglet.

“The government should give the support that other Asean countries are giving to their farmers. We can never compete if the cost of producing rice, corn, and raising livestock here is high,” he said.

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