Archive for the ‘rice shortage’ Category

Green Revolution: Only Those Who Plant Can Expect A Harvest

August 9, 2008

In a little patch of earth in New York City, we plant vegetables. Despite the fleeting good weather in between the seasons, we cultivate a small garden, its size no larger than a car space. The space in the metropolis is limited, but the plants grow fast with less than ordinary care.

At about springtime, our garden bursts into life from its winter hibernation. Creeping squash vines, pepper, and camote sprouts supply us with nutritious greens like what we have in the Philippines. Held in pots and sometimes left hanging by the window we have bulbs of scallion, ginger rhizomes, and a few tendrils of mint and thyme fortified by fertilizers and vitamins. Plump jalapeno peppers, and green potato tops grow outside. The stubby calamansi tree in our living room bears flowers in every branch. The pungent lemon grass (tanglad) serves as our natural décor and insect repellant right on the window.

Our little garden proves luxuriantly prolific in sunny weather. It’s something our kababayans must see and learn from. At harvest time, we get more than enough for our dinner table; the extra harvest that can’t be kept in the refrigerator, we give away to our thankful neighbors.

Planting is a simple solution to food shortage. It’s something we need in the Philippines. Yet I wonder, despite so many of us (14.5 million as of latest count) who go hungry, there’s no government program, national movement, barangay association self-help, school campaign, or bayanihan initiative to rally Filipinos to plant and be productive. Why do we refuse to plant, choose to scrimp on food and accept that we’ve become a noodles republic?

Years before, Imelda Marcos had her green revolution program. Blessed with a year-round of sunny weather, lots of time to spare, and vacant fertile land to till, we could have done just that. But we brushed aside planting as though we never needed it. We neglected agriculture and the poorly-appreciated farmers have left to work for other jobs.

Without us planting in a large scale, it’s embarrassing to complain of hunger. Do we think planting is such a menial and demeaning job that it’s not worth our time? What will we teach our children if we’re too picky about work? Why can’t we understand the dangers of relying on other countries for our food supply that someday we can’t afford? If we don’t plant, what do we want to do with our idle time? What will happen to a country which can’t produce it’s own food?

All over the world, planting for food is a necessity. Domestic production is required just like the green movement that’s needed to counter global warming and climate change. Yet in spite of food shortage and joblessness, we remain seated on the fence. The message hasn’t caught our senses yet—-that only those who plant can expect a harvest. =0=

Decaying bodies at sea, an inflation rate of 11.4%, and a cascade of woes for Filipinos

July 4, 2008

Barely three weeks after the negligent grounding of the Sulpicio Lines ferry at the height of typhoon Frank, a cascade of adverse effects has surfaced adding more injury and pain to untold number of people, near and far from Romblon, the site of the tragedy.

As evidence of negligence surface, decaying bodies float in the sea, making retrieval difficult. As days go by, the burden to identify these bodies has overtaxed the forensic experts, raising anew the lack of preparedness of the nation to tackle a catastrophe of this magnitude.

Relatives of those who died have lost sleep grieving their lost loved ones. They’re confused about their legal rights—what options they have to pursue justice for those who perished. Rather than fight the gargantuan obstacles posed by the sluggish legal system, can they be appeased by measly settlements by the owners of the ferry company? They mull on whether the P200,000 being offered by Sulpicio Lines to each victim is the right compensation for each human life.

A hideous find of toxic insecticide in the sunken ferry has posed problems on how to contain a potential contamination that could sicken people in the area and destroy the livelihood of countless fishermen dependent on the resources of the sea. Time is of the essence. It isn’t easy to remove the 10-ton illegal cargo that’s sitting dangerously in the hull of the Princess of the Stars. Endosulfan (thiodan) is highly dangerous and a significant leakage of the chemical poses destructive possibilities that could last for years. It poses health risks for those working to recover anything from the ill-fated ferry.

Hundreds of miles away, like in poor Bicol villages of Balatan and Pasacao in Camarines Sur, innocent people bear the brunt of the disaster. In Naga City, a sharp drop of fish consumption on fear of contamination has driven down price of fish to 80% below its normal value while the cost of rice rose to 43%.

Before the news of dead bodies floating in Ragay Gulf broke, fish sales were okay. Of the 100 customers who buy here during normal times, you could only have one today who would dare to buy our products,” Corazon Diaz, vendor of Naga City said, dramatizing the immediate impact of dead bodies in the seas to their business even as the Department of Health has officially announced that there was no immediate danger on people’s health. Bicol Mail. (O7/05/08, Escandor, J. Jr.)

Parallel to the damage wrought by storm, the effects of fuel price increases continue to batter the nation. The rainy season has set in and more typhoons and landslides are expected by the weather watcher PAGASA. Mayon volcano in Albay has shown signs of activity which augurs a possible eruption. The dollar exchange which hovers at P45.70 per dollar has weakened, prompting central bank to prop up the currency from further devaluation. In June, the inflation rate has risen to 11.4%, pegging a record high in 14 years.

“The price of rice soared by 43 percent because of growing demand and increased costs of inputs. This means that the rice a consumer bought for P100 in June last year may be had for P143 last month.

Prices of food products included in the Filipino consumer basket rose by 17.4 percent. This means food products that had cost P100 in June last year, cost P117.4 last month.” Inquirer (07.05.08, Remo, M.)

The hideous chain of events is nothing that anyone could have imagined, but it has happened— wrecking havoc to the entire nation. To what extent the public will cope with these calamities (natural or man-made, local or global) is something for now and the future. Certainly, there’s enough blame to spread around, but in this situation, it’s the poor, the young, and elderly who suffer the most. =0=

When will the palace worry about the soaring prices?

June 7, 2008

It is the question that crossed my mind when I read Malaya’s banner news on June 6, 2008 saying Malacanang Palace isn’t worried about the soaring prices. True? I think it’s one of the misleading signals our government wants us to believe—that everything is under control and there is no cause for worry when dark clouds gather like the onset of a storm.

The government insists it has “strong macroeconomic fundamentals,” and thus expected to withstand the “external shock” of a financial downturn. They say the administration has responded well to food shortages by giving cash dole-outs to the poor in its new “Ahon Pamilyang Pilipino” program.

There is indeed free money to give away as an aid package (P6000 /year) for the impoverished Filipinos. With additional health allowance (P500 /year,) education grant (P300 per school child/year,) and fertilizer subsidy (P1500) to farmers, our country seems successful in allying the restiveness of the poor for now. But this move makes many people apprehensive. In the long haul, the public fears the government’s band-aid solution is something we cannot afford.

In many places nationwide, under the blistering heat of the sun, poor Filipinos line up everyday to buy their dwindling ration of rice. It’s a pathetic daily scene of time wastage which deepens despair. The strain it causes gives famine a greater chance of becoming real. It may take only a few months of food shortages before more malnutrition shows up in the 24 million people who live with less than 67 pesos per day.

In the fuel front meanwhile, gasoline in the pump recently gets another round of increase: a P1.50/liter adjustment to reflect the high cost of crude oil and basic commodities. The peso-dollar exchange (P44/dollar) is down. With no end in sight, skyrocketing costs jacked-up inflation rate to 9.6% in the past month, the highest in nine years.

Pres. Gloria M. Arroyo has signed Executive Order 728 on June 2 to give her emergency powers under the National Food and Emergency Council, most likely in preparation for any social turbulence that may result as prices soar. Instead of issuing the order, it should have been better if she leads aggressively to plant rice and veggies—-a full-scale campaign against the failed import policy which brought the nation scrambling for its food supply abroad.

At a plenary session of the High Level Conference of World Food Security held in Rome, Italy, Philippine Secretary of Agriculture Arthur Yap pleaded for an urgent measure “to reverse the double-whammy of shrinking farm production and spiraling prices of basic staples worldwide.” Yap said vulnerable countries in the world aren’t interested with words. They want action.

How then can Malacanang say there’s no cause to worry?

Inquirer’s opinion writer Isagani Cruz wrote a few weeks ago that the lack of government sincerity and honesty sends more alarm than the problem of food scarcity. He opined our present crisis could be exploited to suppress the public’s attention to the corruption scandals which remained tucked under the rug with Pres. Arroyo watching. It seemed the sincerity and honesty that he referred to was what Gregorio Bituin, Jr. wanted to convey in his eloquent Tagalog sonnet about truth and lies:


Payag ka bang pawang kasinungalingan
Ang mangaglipana sa ating lipunan?
Hindi ba’t maigi ay katotohanan
Itong pairalin sa kapaligiran?

Kasinungalinga’y siyang pumapatay
Sa katotohanang hangarin ay lantay
Pag baya’y nilugmok, sakbibi ng lumbay,
Pa’no pa gaganda itong iwing buhay?

Kasinungalinga’y simpait ng apdo
Kita nang hanapin ang bawat totoo
Harapin ma’y pawang mga sakripisyo
Kahit man banggain ay pader na bato.

Kapag totoo na’y ating nasumpungan
Pukyutang kaytamis ang malalasahan.=0=

Rice shortage, chestnut mannikins, & the specter of want

April 6, 2008

by Totie Mesia

Rice shortage and famine had been worrisome issues, but they made me recall the old days when I was a kid growing up in the 1960s. Food then wasn’t much of a problem in Bikol. The back of our house in Bagumbayan Street, Naga City was a quaint oasis of fish, waterfowls, and birds—a small paradise near the fabled Quiborakland where coconut trees grew tall and rice blossomed in abundance.

Yes, it was a swampy locale not far from the old Ateneo de Naga University campus where rice and grass grew in profusion. The black snakehead (talusog) rested in the mud and their babies formed bubbly gold balls of wiggly fingerlings beneath lush green lilies in the murky marsh. The frogs grew fat and lived satisfied with a steady diet of cicadas and dragonflies.

When the monsoon rains came, the place became greener and livelier. It teemed with jumping tadpoles, miniature crabs, and emerald salamanders which were elating to watch in glass jars I placed on the window sill.

The chestnut-feathered mannikins (aka rignos, maya, munia) flocked on patches of tall cogon grass, thick shrubs and thorny bougainvilleas which flowered in the peak of summer. The birds were awesome builders of nests made of dried zakate leaves when the fields were ripe with fruiting grains. Guarding the rice fields where they raised their young, I was rapt watching the mannikins foraged on grains which were outstandingly bountiful.

The birds were naturally happy in spite of the stern scarecrow’s presence on the rice paddies. They busily plucked food from rice stalks before the onset of harvest. And they sometimes blackened the sky in their amazing group flight each time I chased them. I had the child’s warped fun of trapping a few of them which I kept in a bamboo cage.

The mannikins sounded like thunder in their flight. In huge numbers, they flocked together incessantly chirping in the breeze, reminding us of unity which bound their species through the eons. Ravenously, they fed just like hungry human beings. Whenever they left though, I waited for their return—even if the farmers’ noisy tin cans suspended on a scarecrow’s breast banged incessantly to shoo them away.

In my innocent mind, I thought the plentiful rice grains back then would never run out. I was convinced both men and birds were in no danger of ever starving or dying of hunger.

But of course I was damn wrong. It didn’t take long when hordes of people moved in to live and disrupt the balance of the marsh. The grassy swamp quickly dried up, the vegetation thinned out, and the entire place looked fallow for rice or wildlife to ever thrive.

It appeared nature met extreme “environmental stress” with the encroachment of people in the fields. The green dragonflies with large iridescent eyes vanished with the slimy catfish that I used to hook with my fishing stick. The chestnut mannikins, lesser in number, did pass by as often. The black waterfowls (tikling) which dashed and sang on the mud were gone. Only the dengue-bearing mosquitoes remained.

I lamented thinking why fertile fields could turn so barren so quickly. It could be a reason why rice, our staple food, had suddenly become scarce all over the country. As news climate changed perturbed us, the grains couldn’t be coaxed to fruit generously as before. And the greedy rice hoarders held on for those rounds of price increases which ripped our pockets.

Yet, the national statistics disclosed, among our students, farming had never been as popular a profession as nursing, hotel and restaurant administration, or criminology. Many had been conditioned to believe that if they couldn’t get white-collar jobs, it was the only time to “go home and plant camote,” giving a bad rap to the humble sweet potato that sustained our ancestors. It had been a crooked way of regarding agriculture, a noble profession.

What could all these speak about us in the midst of the specter of want? Taxes had risen and many had been out of work. I heard many planters lost heart with farming and they dreamed of changing careers. With ineffectual agrarian reform program (CARP,) there had been less land to till and agriculture had been expensive for poor farmers without government support.

The cost of food brazenly shot up and the poor folks instantly felt the drag of spending for their families. There had been scary rumors of famine in spite of the move to make rice affordable. Grumblings and spotty protests rocked the streets as many waited for what would be next.

I wondered what these meant for the birds and the men without grains for the coming seasons. With our government’s proclivity to import rice from abroad, I pondered if interventions would ever work when leaders often bickered on issues which augured badly for clear solutions.

Was it wise to rely on rice imports from Vietnam without serious effort to make us rice-sufficient? What could 43 billion pesos do to our flagging agriculture, an industry which we shamefully neglected for a long time? Was unbridled export of brawn and brains the way towards national security and survival? Could we have done too little, too late because greed and corruption robbed us of what was essential for the nation?

I wished the people of the country would live through this uncertainty with sufficient courage. I always believed we still got the will and the energy to rise above our deepest concerns and worst fears.