Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Food Crisis: Reports from the field (Philippines)

(This is a very concise brief prepared from a series of field studies/visits and interviews conducted by Asia America Initiative (AAI) Philippines staff in the last couple of days. It briefly discusses the current crisis, causes, and future steps that can be taken to avert serious food crisis in impoverished places like Sulu, Jolo, and Cotabato in the Philippines.)

Rising Rice Crisis in Sulu, Jolo, and Cotabato

Potential upland rice farming could still be developed in some municipalities of Jolo to ease rice crisis in the future. Moreover, better coordination among organized farmers’ cooperatives, associations, and local business community could also help sort out supply bottlenecks. Planting is usually done two times (wet and dry season) a year. But due to limited credit/loans from the existing banks and the lack of modern agricultural equipment, actual output is below potential output.

The exact number of farmers requiring assistance is not yet determined but even a conservative estimate shows that a majority of the farmers need assistance of one form or the other. It usually depends on what kind and form of help agencies could bring to the farming community. In Sulu, where most of the farmers are tenants, an average farmer owns 0.5 to 1 hectare of land. The planting season is not yet over and if immediate steps are taken right now, we can still help increase productivity this season and help loose the strain in rice supply in the market.

Some highlights of rice crisis in Sulu, Jolo, and Cotabato:

  • Farmers usually store seeds for the next cropping season. So there is no shortage of local seeds but irrigation is a big problem. Certified seeds are purchased from Cotabato City and Zamboanga.
  • The local office lacks sufficient funds to cover supply cost of high quality seeds from outside the region.
  • Cropping is limited due to limited farm equipment. Sulu has no tractor, whose proper use during planting season could increase productivity. Leasing of tractors, where available, is very expensive (rent per hectare is around P600 to P800) when compared to per capita income.
  • Lack of proper irrigation is hampering productivity.
  • Very limited assistance like training in stepping up rice production in Sulu
  • Farmers who do not belong to cooperatives, if any, are deprived of assistance. There are no cooperatives for rice sector only. Cooperatives usually charge 1.5 to 3% interest rate per annum.
  • Planting season is not over yet. Planting is still possible between mid-May to the last week of May.

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