Saturday, May 25

Sen. Zubiri pushes rice production zones

SENATE PRESIDENT MIGUEL ZUBIRI

MANILA (August 8, 2023)—Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri is pushing for the establishment of rice production zones (RPZs) with intensified government support. He said the country should start weaning its dependence away from imported rice and reduce the risk of food insecurity.

He said the two recent typhoons badly hit Regions 1 (Ilocos), 2 (Cagayan Valley) and 3 (Central Luzon), which roughly account for 40 percent of rice input and 80 percent of corn production. Thus, there is a need to establish “rice production zones and inundating it with government support and attention.”

The senate president said he made this proposal to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. during the dinner hosted by the Chief Executive for members of the Philippine Senate in August 2023.

In their discussions, Zubiri said the topic veered to the supply of rice in the country and how senators were expressing concerns about the recent announcement of India banning non-Basmati rice exports.

The senator from Bukidnon said the president found “very interesting” his proposal to establish RPZs.

In his proposal, Zubiri said the provinces can be grouped into one RPZ. As the concurrent Secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), the President can assign an undersecretary or assistant secretary to handle a specific RPZ each.

“They will focus on enhancing capabilities to produce rice, like pouring support for seedlings, fertilizers, pest control and modernized equipment, and making sure that they hand-hold the farmers until their crops have reached maximum efficiency of production,” Zuribi said.

“[I think], we cannot be certain about our food security today and then be insecure tomorrow because of factors beyond our control, or just because our sources of rice imports such as India have become uncertain,” Zubiri said.

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He said typhoons “Egay” and “Falcon” blew a big hole in the food basket regions in the north and this will surely have an effect on the supply of agricultural products, including rice.

“The earlier we build our RPZs, the sooner we buffer our rice supply and mitigate the effects of calamities on food security,” Zubiri added.

In establishing RPZs, Zubiri also noted that the government can take its cue from Republic Act (RA) 8435, or the “Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997.”

He said RA 8435 mandates the Bureau of Soils and Water Management to identify Networks of Protected Areas for Agricultural and Agro-industrial Development, which are ideal RPZs. They can also be a good starting point because the bureau maps out all fertile, rich and irrigable lands suitable for crop production, including rice.

Zubiri also pushed for quick turnaround programs for affected farmers in the north for replanting, to allow the immediate recovery of rice granaries in the typhoon-hit areas.

Under the 2023 General Appropriations Act, he said the main programs under the DA Office of the Secretary can be used to aid rice farmers. This aid should include the National Rice Program (NRP) and the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Program (RCEP).

Under the NRP, these are production support services with P22.86 billion; extension support services with P1.26 billion; research and development, P708.52 million; agricultural equipment and facilities, P4.73 billion; and irrigation with P721.24 million.

A total of P10 billion is also being pushed for RCEP, with P5 billion for rice farm equipment; P3 billion for the development, propagation and promotion of inbred rice seeds; and P1 billion each for credit to be managed by the Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines, and for extension services on rice crop production.

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“The government can tap the unutilized portions of these funds to help affected farmers in bouncing back from the adverse effects of Egay and Falcon. Helping our farmers will also boost the country’s food security,” Zubiri said. LCD