Thanks to support from the Philippine government, NGOs, credit providers, and other key groups, Filipino rice farmers are more competitive than ever. With increasing access to credit, technical support, and rice farming equipment, Philippines’ local rice farmers have consistently achieved record-high rice outputs in the past few years.
There is no question that, despite their dwindling numbers and increasing median age, Filipino rice farmers are now more productive than they have ever been. However, despite a record output exceeding 20 million metric tons of palay in 2021, the Philippines is likely to keep importing rice from Vietnam, Thailand, and India to meet local market demands.
This is especially notable as the annual demand for rice is only at approximately 14 million metric tons of palay. What this means is that the domestically grown rice may not be meeting specific market needs for price and quality, which comes down to factors such as production scale and access to resources.
Fortunately, the recent performance of Filipino farmers shows that they have what it takes to not only secure our nation’s food security but also to be competitive in the domestic market. There is no reason to believe that the Philippines may not become a net exporter of rice as well.
Below are some key solutions identified by the Department of Agriculture and other
policymakers for improving the competitiveness of our rice farmers:
Mechanization has long been identified as a crucial component of agricultural competitiveness. The use of machinery is key to reducing labor inputs and waste, thus achieving the kinds of efficiency typical of farms in industrialized rice-producing countries.
For decades, however, the country has faced extreme challenges in mechanizing farms. These range from the difficult terrain in many rice-growing areas, supply and logistics issues related to the acquisition and servicing of farm equipment, and the lack of credit mechanisms. Many farms could not also justify the upfront cost of machinery acquisition, as these often require a certain scale of operations to rationalize.
Recently, however, private businesses and government bodies such as the Philippine Rice Research Institute have developed affordable and localized rice farming equipment. Unlike previous generations of farm equipment, many of these new devices are designed to operate in the context of most Philippine rice farming operations, making them a more attractive investment.
2.) Sustainable Credit
Many rice farmers only receive incomes when they have a successful harvest. Most rice farming areas can only support 2-3 croppings a year, which can leave farmers in a precarious financial situation in between harvest periods.
Even when their finances are fairly stable, rice farmers may find it difficult to increase the productivity of their farm if they are not able to secure credit to pay for inputs such as good quality seed, fertilizer, equipment, and labor. Ultimately, the lack of ready, sustainable credit options may leave farmers unable to improve the efficiency of their operations, leading to a higher production cost per ton of palay.
Thankfully, there are now many more good credit options for local rice farmers compared to previous generations. Both government and private financial institutions are stepping up their efforts to make workable financial options available to those that need them. This ensures that farms remain competitive and the farmers themselves are not trapped in a cycle of unpayable debt.
3.) Technical Support
Local rice production has improved significantly in large part thanks to the adoption of modern farming practices. The Department of Agriculture, PhilRice, and various agricultural colleges have collectively helped rice farmers implement sustainable production-boosting practices that work in the various contexts of local farms.
However, there remains room for improvement. The highly mechanized farms of tomorrow will require that farmers are familiarized with different modern technologies, from crop-spraying drones and laser-guided land leveling tools to testing equipment and agricultural satellite imaging.
Even without these cutting-edge tools, modest investments in technical support still have the potential to improve competitiveness. Teaching farmers the proper use of fertilizers and pest management solutions, for instance, can have an immediate impact on the efficiency and productivity of many local rice farms.
4.) High-yield, Location-appropriate Rice Varieties
Many of the recent gains in rice production is down to the adoption of high-yield rice varieties developed by PhilRice and other research centers. While the improvements in yields are encouraging, things could still be better.
For instance, Filipino farmers today often select rice varieties primarily on yield potential. However, this is not the only factor to consider, as the pest resistance and the marketability or “eating quality” of a rice variety can also determine the profitability and competitiveness of a crop.
The sole focus on yield has sometimes led to higher than normal losses from pests as well as low farmgate prices. Thus, some farms that are already using high-yield varieties could stand to become more competitive by switching to a comparatively less bountiful variety that is more in demand and suffers far fewer losses to local pests.
5.) Buy Locally Produced Rice
For many Filipinos, rice is far more than just a carbohydrate. Rather, it is central to the many different cultures in the country. As such, the price and demand for rice are subject to political factors outside of its economic and nutritional value. This often leads to the creation of policies that heavily favor cheaper imports so that rice remains affordable for poorer Filipinos.
Unfortunately, cheaper imports from countries with large competitive advantages can severely undercut disadvantaged local producers, often forcing them out of business.
The job of balancing the needs of less-advantaged Filipinos and farmers struggling to compete is not easy. However, the growing number of middle-class Filipinos and local businesses can make a real difference simply by choosing to buy locally produced rice.
By choosing to buy local rice, ordinary Filipinos can help farmers not just stay in business but also develop their capacity to efficiently produce better rice at a lower cost. This can help them bring profitable yet low-priced and high-quality rice to the market, hopefully reducing the demand for imports even further.
Filipino Farmers Are Up to the Challenge
The production successes of the past few years show that, despite the odds, Filipino farmers are up to the task of producing enough rice for our needs. Now the question is how willing other Filipinos are to support them and help them compete domestically. With mechanization, sustainable lines of credit, technical assistance, better rice varieties, and a better-educated market willing to buy according to their values, anything’s possible.