Charter change will intensify the rice crisis and worsen the already stunted local agriculture

According to the scientist group AGHAM, the National Food Authority’s recent pronouncement about the current rice inventory signifies a prolonged food crisis in the coming months. NFA estimates that the current supply shall only last for about a day and that the 250,000 metric tons (MT) rice imports of the National Food Security Council will arrive much later by June this year.

“The absence of affordable rice for the poor is a matter of national concern, and we expect this situation of food insecurity to worsen if the current moves for Charter Change will push through.” said Feny Cosico, secretary general of AGHAM.

The World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Agriculture, signed by the Philippines in 1995, liberalized and deregulated the country’s rice industry. Under a liberalized rice industry, WTO members are committed to remove domestic subsidies that prevents the government to support rural economies. This restriction was imposed to prevent distortion on trade.

“In 2008, we have achieved 16.82 million tons of local rice produce that earned the rank of 8th place as top rice producer in the world and 5th among ASEAN countries. But despite the said high volume of rice, it is an irony that the country was also the top importer of rice in the world based on the data of the Food and Agriculture Organization. This is because rice imports are the country’s commitment to WTO through Minimum Access Volume (MAV),” she explains.

MAV pertains to the volume of agricultural products that are allowed to be imported. Since then, the Philippines relies heavily on rice importation to meet the consumption demands of the country, making the rice crisis and food insecurity a perennial problem.

AGHAM said that the proposed Charter Change will not provide long term solutions to food insecurity, but will instead aggravate the problem. The PDP-Laban Chacha proposal omits Section 21 under Article II of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which requires the government to to“promote comprehensive rural development and agrarian reform.” This is consistent with the WTO’s neoliberal policies of removing government support to rural economies. The deletion of  this provision to protect local economy to foreign influence protectionist provision will only perpetuate the vicious cycle of rice crisis.

“Chacha proposals that would allow for 100%  foreign corporate ownership of our land and resources. Our productive land will be fully used not  for staple commodity, but for high-valued and industrial crops for export. Our hands our tied-up to WTO’s liberalization policies as the rice requirement of the country will be sourced from importation and not from local production. These are hindrances to rural development and agricultural modernization,” said Cosico.

Ailing local agriculture

The scientist group added that the Philippines’ perennial food insecurity is symptomatic of an ailing local agriculture. The lack of government support in the fields of agricultural development and rural industrialization are the major threats to food security in the country. This is on top of the farmers’ landlessness and lack of control over agricultural resources. AGHAM said that it has become clear that the WTO-inspired ChaCha provisions are a threat to our local agriculture.

“We must oppose the current Charter Change proposals as these promote neoliberal policies that are detrimental to our local agricultural development. Our Constitution must embody, as well as strengthen the pursuit of genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization, which are the real solutions to the long standing crisis on food production. The modernization of local agriculture must be pursued based on the needs of our agricultural  economy not by the dictates of the agro-corporations. Modernization must be pursued towards the path of achieving food-security and self-sufficiency,” Cosico ended. ###


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