We just delivered more rice from the “second harvest” to the rice mill for storage and milling later. We don’t worry about a shortage of rice: We grown our own, a gormet organically grown rice for the upscale Manila market.

But not everyone is so lucky.

Here in the Philippines there is a rice shortage.

It came on suddenly: the cost of food has been going up, but right now it’s the “lean” season, before the next crop is planted, and usually prices go up anyway.

But this year there isn’t enough rice, or rather there isn’t enough cheap rice. There are ten million people in Manila, and many rely on subsidized cheap rice to live, which was suddenly in short supply.

So last week, the government announced rice was being “hoarded” and they would authorize importation of rice from VietNam…and voila, there just happened to be a ship full of rice sitting at the doc for a photo op on that very same day of the announcement. The US Embassador was on TV promising the US would make sure the Philippines wouldn’t run out of rice…and yup, there is an agreement to buy US rice too using a commodity loan agreement.
So there is Presdient Gloria smiling in TV commercials showing her government shops selling rice at cost to the poor. It probably will divert attention from several million dollar bribery scandals that involve those around her, including suspicions that the First Gentleman was involved. But never mind. Poor people have to eat, and the government’s job is to help keep them afloat with subsidized prices

And to prevent hoarding and diversion of the cheap government subsidized rice, the gov’t may distribute the rice via the churches.

……

There is a rice shortage in the world, with spiraling prices. You might have seen the riots in Haiti that led to the government changing. That is the tip of the iceburg

Here, people are not yet starving, and many get money from relatives working overseas. But some of the headlines are screaming about starvation, and blaming biofuel which is diverting crops to energy use.

The problem is so serious that the World Bank is holding a meeting about the crisis.

It is partly a lack of rice, but mainly the increase in the price of rice and other grains leading to the poor people being unable to afford to buy food.
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The International Rice Research Institutes’ magazine Rice Today reports:

Los Baños, Philippines – The upward spiral of rice prices is causing anxiety, if not panic, for governments of both importing and exporting countries. Exporters, such as Vietnam and India, are restricting exports to ensure domestic supplies and stabilize prices. Importers, such as the Philippines, are scrambling to secure supplies and assure their populations that there’s enough rice to go around…

So far, not riots here, but ABSCBN reports there are long lines for the government subsidized rice, and it is being bought up, making the stores worry they will run out early.

How much of this will be resold to rice merchants to resell later at a higher (unsubsidized) price? Unknown at this time. How much will be resold or used to feed the pig or the fighting cocks in the back yard? Again, unknown.

The shortage has come on suddenly, and is attributed to everything from global warming to too many babies. But a lot of it is due to an increase in people being able to eat enough, aka increased demand.

For various reasons, rice productivity has not increased in the last twenty years. Marginal land isn’t being cultivated, since farmers can make a better living in a nearby factory.

There is increased urbanization–lots of farmers, whose kids now live in Chicago or Manila have sold lots to Manila dwellers for second houses, and of course more people now live in the small towns for jobs as the population increases. We see lots of prime rice fields now being covered with houses, concrete driveways, and only small gardens remain. The road to our farm is now lined with shops and houses, whereas twenty years ago, it was all fields.

There is also the problem biofuel, both of diverting grain for ethanol and of using land for other crops. Malaysia cocodiesel plantations and US ethnanol that diverts the corn crop work against the amount of food available.

But local factors due to poverty also waste rice.

There is also the problem of rice being lost to poor storage and because rains have led to poor drying of the newly harvested rice (Here, rice is dried on tarmacs or along roads. Rain can mean fungus or rotting of rice, or that you will have to have the local rice merchant dry it in his drier). What good are hybrid seeds, fertilizer, and handplows if the crop can’t be dried?

Another reason is bad weather (i.e. cold spells and floods) in other Asian countries.

There is another reason for the sudden shortage of rice at this time: it’s the lean season.

The main crop is planted in May, when the rains come. If you have irrigation, you can get a second crop, usually less productive, which is being harvested now. But for many farmers, they are running out of their rice or the money they got for last year’s crop, but now they need money for new seedlings and fertilizer and diesel. They are already short of money, and since many of them sold their crop for cash months ago, many are short of rice to eat, and have to buy it. But since there is less rice around, the price normally goes up about now. We get lots of our farmers borrowing money and rice, to be repaid by their next crop.

For the poor in towns and cities, they don’t grow rice, and have to rely on subsidized rice to live.

Government subsidized rice is 18.75 p/kg. (100 pesos is 4.10 dollars).

On the street, rice prices range from 18 to 28p/kg  for ordinary white rice, with the prices slowly creeping up. And other prices are going up: Pandesal, bread, coffee, onions, meat, fish. Our street vendor barbecue was one skewer for ten pesos: Now it’s 12 pesos.

Part of this is inflation, and part is the world wide increase in oil prices, causing an increase in diesel used to plant crops, and so the increase in oil prices spirals into increased price to produce crops.

Finally, globalization has made a lot of people richer, so they eat better.

And that is one reason for the shortage of grain: People are richer, and eat meat. And you feed chicken with grain. Pigs, goats, ducks, Farm fish, and cattle also divert crop land to feed the animals to supply meat and fish to one’s diet.

So what is the answer?

Many answers, for a complex problem.
All I know is that we are hoping that the cheap subsidized grain will not be diverted into the regular market, and make more farmers decide that working as a drive in Saudi or a waiter in Alberta Canada is easier than trying to make a living planting rice.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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