We've done it before; we'll do it all over again. That is the take-home message from the media forum held in IRRI on April 19 (in connection with IRRI's 50th anniversary). The panel members during the forum were: Dr. Achim Dobermann and Mr. Jojo Lapitan (IRRI), and Dr. Sergio Francisco (PhilRice).
The question though, is really WHEN will the Philippines have enough stocks of rice again?
Now that is a harder question to answer. Dr. Francisco has predicted that if the Philippines can produce 3.3 cavans of rice more per hectare each year, then the country will be self-sufficient in 2013. On a more realistic scale (I think), which is based on a rice yield growth of 3.7% and a population growth of ~2%, self-sufficiency is predicted to be attained in 2017.
Why is the Philippines importing rice in the first place?
This is one of the most common questions asked by non-rice science people. The book, entitled "Why Does the Philippines Import Rice?" (published by IRRI, PhilRice), discusses various reasons. Click on the title to see these limitation factors (yes, IRRI has a habit of making its publications accessible through the internet).
From what was said in the forum, the Philippines imports rice because the Filipino consumption is very high. On the average, across locations and income classes, Filipinos eat 128 kg/capita annually. Each year, the Philippines has 2,000,000 people more to feed!! The demand for rice has gone higher than the annual rice yield. Hence, the need to import.
It must not be mistaken that the country is a bad rice producer. In fact, despite having the smallest land area available for rice farming, the Philippines is producing rice at par with some of major rice-producing countries that have a lot more land. Probably, the Philippine harvest is less in 2009, which was a particularly devastating year because of the typhoons, and in 2010 because the Philippines is still reeling from damaged irrigation systems on top of a drought.
Throughout the discussion, Mr. Lapitan and Dr. Francisco emphasised that the issue is that every time the leadership changes, the priorities change too; hence, there's no continuity with projects that are designed to help farmers. For instance, Mr. Lapitan mentioned that when Iloilo's rice crop was endangered by a viral disease called tungro, IRRI helped by providing resistant varieties. However, when a new governor took the seat in Iloilo, he/she did not continue with the program and had sensitive varieties planted in the fields again. Welcome back, tungro! Good bye, rice harvest!
(To me, that governor displayed sheer stupidity, really)
IRRI, according to Dr. Dobermann, can supply the technologies that farmers need, but the national agricultural research groups are responsible in distributing these technologies to the farmers on-site. So really, technology transfer relies strongly on extension workers.
Therefore, if we want to achieve rice self-sufficiency within our lifetimes, WE NEED TO VOTE FOR PEOPLE WITH STRONG POLITICAL WILL AND WHO WILL BE ABLE TO MAKE DECISIONS BENEFICIAL FOR THE RICE SELF-SUFFICIENCY PROGRAM.