Plight of the farmers

By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy

THE country’s economic managers have their ears and eyes primarily for the taxes they can collect to finance projects of monumental costs. That’s the real reason for liberalized importation.

In times past, the farmers of rice or sugar were protected. The sugar farmers have more clout, both financially and politically. They are more educated because the price of sugar was high. Among the agricultural sectors, they are the ones who could ride over the periodic rise and fall of prices.

But the rice farmers have little political clout without a cohesive national organization. What they have aplenty are promises and arguments that things will be better when the country imports because the prices of locally produced rice, as with sugar, are high. Imports are cheaper and prices for consumers would be low.

Who can argue with that? Nobody wants to buy anything at a higher cost unless they are antiques or exclusive products. But rice is a basic commodity and there are cheaper ones and better at that. Let’s look at the prices.

Like in other provinces in the country, the gap between the farmgate price of palay (unhusked rice) and the retail price of rice in the market has also widened in Negros Occidental.

The Occidental Negros Office of the Provincial Agriculturist reported that current (last week) buying price of palay in the province ranges from P10 to P13 per kilogram, still lower than the previous price of P18 to P20 per kilogram before the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law.

On the other hand the retail price of rice sold at Bacolod City Central Marketranges from P40 to P52 per kilogram, which shows a gap of at least P30 in palay and rice prices.

Why this wide gap? Provincial Agriculturist Atty. Japhet Masculinoreportedly said “there’s a disconnect” as the price of rice among retail outlets seemed not moving below P40 per kilogram while the farmgate price of palay continues to drop.

Common sense would tell us that when the farm gate price goes down, the price in the retail market should also go down. When the cost of drying, milling or polishing and transport goes up, then it is expected that there will be upward movement of the commodity. That is natural but there was none. So why is there this “disconnect”?

Masculino did not attribute this disparity to “hoarding” but that someone or some people are controlling the volume that went into the market to prevent price depression.

“Otherwise”, he said, “if there’s oversupply and less demand, the price will go down.” The sad part is that OPA can only monitor the prices. This is an admission that the government cannot intervene to remove the people who control the flow of supply.

Just as impotent to protect the consumers and the farmers is the Department of Agriculture. In a statement attributed to it last November 19, they are “investigating if unscrupulous rice traders have been taking advantage of the liberalized importation of rice amid the wide price gap between palay and retail rice prices in some provinces”. The Department is also “is closely monitoring potential distortions in the market, particularly the price gap between farm gate and retail prices.”

“Investigate” and “monitor” are the usual excuse that we already consider them as inability or refusal to protect the farmers.

Farmers groups in other provinces are experiencing the same situation. The average gap is around P22 between the average retail price is P37.51 per kilo compared to dry palay farm gate average price of P15.71 per kilo.

This is no longer someone controlling the volume of rice in the market. There is already a cartel engaged in a conspiracy to profit at the expense of the farmers and the consumers. And all the DA can do is “investigate” and “monitor.”

Every rice trader is registered with the DA or the National Food Authority. These agencies know the flow of rice and therefore they have the data.

By the way, it is the DA that rejects the idea of controlling importation with the usual gobbledygook reasoning.

Now, here’s a more plausible explanation of the current situation. Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food Senator Cynthia Villar said there is really rice hoarding in the country and that the government is already working to eliminate them. That is more like it.

But when?