Surplus in Bukinon: palay or rice?

Provincial board member Oliver Owen Garcia said there is a big difference between the two because local palay producers might yield in excess of local demand but they might have sold it to millers and traders from other areas.

"We do not eat palay, we eat (milled) rice," Garcia told Bukidnon's Sangguniang Panlalawigan on April 16 when they questioned representatives from the National Food Authority and the Provincial Agriculture Office over the rice situation of the province.
Garcia said the difference should be clarified in agricultural statistics because they do not get sufficient data to back legislation.

Officials from the first two agencies maintained there is no shortage of rice in Bukidnon.

Estelita Madjos, deputy to the Provincial Agriculture Officer, told the provincial board the province is enjoying rice production surplus.

She said Bukidnon has produced 75,918 metric tons of rice (palay) from January to April 2008, higher than its production in the same period last year at 69,404 metric tons.

She estimated rice consumption is only 5,172 metric tons of rice per month or 62,064 metric tons in one year based on a 60-40 rice-corn consumption ratio.

The Bureau of Agricultural Statistics has marked Bukidnon as the number one rice producer in Northern Mindanao with the production of 173,289 metric tons in 2007 and a rice sufficiency level of 172 percent, according to figures cited by board member Nemesio Beltran Jr. in a related resolution.

"If its true that there is a rice surplus, then why was Bukidnon cited to be the second hungriest province in a study (last year)? How can you reconcile that?" Garcia asked.

The agriculture officials could not provide data on the volume of rice milled in Bukidnon's rice mills. Madjos said they only compute regular estimates for production.

She said municipal agriculture officers monitor and establish actual computations as to area planted to rice and actual rice production, with actual milled volume not included.

But Garcia said they "just do the math" without considering the figures that matter.

Garcia, a councilor from rice-producing Valencia City, said agriculture officials should also mind the figures on how much of Bukidnon's palay production is milled here for local consumption.

Garcia, who has made similar queries in Valencia, said the figure is critical as the province tackles local measures on the national "rice crisis" being a supposedly "ri surplus area.”

Garcia, who represents the local chapter of the Philippine Councilors' League in the board as ex-officio member, told MindaNews there is a possible surplus production but only a small portion is left for the local demand.

"I am not amenable to the data. There are municipal agriculture officers who are not doing their job religiously," added board member Rogelio Lago (1st Dist.), who is a former mayor of Baungon town.

Prices for both rice and palay have surged within a month with palay shooting up from P12 to P18 per kilo while a rice variety jumped from P26 to P34.

Aragasi Pasandalan, NFA provincial manager, said there is no rice crisis but only price crisis as traders or profiteers take advantage of the situation. He also denied there are really no rice hoarders but only price manipulators. But he agreed on a call for crackdown if there are really hoarders.

"Rice traders are even afraid to buy because authorities might pursue them as hoarders," he said.

Another NFA official admitted in a press conference later that enough rice supply was discovered during an inspection of Valencia's rice mills wherein one of the traders, a former city official, reported that the bulk of their stored rice are marketed in Cagayan de Oro City.

Vice Gov. Alex Calingasan criticized Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap for choosing to flow money to infrastructure instead of subsidizing seeds, fertilizers and other inputs.

Board member Glenn Peduche (2nd Dist.) said local agriculture agencies should send the message to Yap that instead of increasing prices of certified palay seeds, they should inject more government subsidy to farmers.

He cited a DA administrative order announcing the increase of seed prices amid the rice crisis.

Garcia said he would push for regulating trading of rice in Bukidnon to ensure local sufficiency first. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)

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