Friday, April 11, 2008

The Risk of Rumors in Rice Reserves

For more than 3 billion inhabitants of this planet, rice is not merely a staple food nor an agricultural product for trade. Attached to it are deeply rooted traditions, psychological and cultural values that have acquired far greater importance than the nutritional benefits it provides. Governments in the Asia-Pacific region have long ago realized that maintaining adequate supply of rice at prices that can accommodate their poorest citizens is critical to social stability.

Reports of global decline in rice supply due to urbanization, industrialization, reallocation of land for biofuels, shifting land use for livestock to supply increasing demand for meat by a growing middle class in countries like China and India, poor harvests due to extreme weather conditions, growing population, low stockpiles, long term inadequacy of agricultural investment, and hoarding to
take advantage of expected price increases; the focus of the population's attention veers toward this issue instantly. The Philippines, a country of nearly 90 million people that has been transformed from a self-sufficient rice producer to the world's biggest rice importer; and where 80% of the population spends 60% of income on food - 40% of which is rice - a shortage situation becomes a social volcano about to erupt.

Such a scenario is avoided by the country's past leaders, except President Gloria Arroyo. She skillfully orchestrated a series of initiatives that created rumors of rice shortages, to remove the media and the public's attention away from the series of scandals that continue to shake her administration; and into long queues of people buying rice secured by military personnel-to prevent riots and maintain order. She used her low credibility and negative trust rating to generate reversed results.

After news of the global food crisis and rising prices were reported by media, the President announced sufficient stocks up to the end of the year. Then she calmly appealed to fastfood chains to offer half a cup of rice to customers as an option to limit wastage. Also, high profile raids were conducted on hoarders, followed by government announcements in media of rice distribution at subsidized prices in several centers where the poor converge. The effect is that if there is sufficient rice, why these appeals, distribution and these raids? This created a mindset that the sufficient stock announcement is a cover up, and that stocks will run out. The panic removed the public's interest in scandals and shifted to getting their hands on rice. The media's daily broadcast and telecasts of congressional investigations followed the public's shift in focus. The scandals were buried and would likely not be resurrected for lack of interest.

Since rice stocks have been secured via Thailand's last delivery and a contracted forward delivery from Vietnam in 4 months, the President replaced the crisis she faced, for which solutions were difficult; with a non-crisis packaged as one, which is already solved. The President has often escaped tight situations with luck, stealth, or guile - but always injects her image with photos performing religious rituals, praying or being prayed over. The risks she took in using a global crisis to spin a local impact could have resulted in tragic consequences. But it seems she had all bases covered. Even the perception that the government cannot feed its people has built in excuses for her. Imports began 20 years before her time, 3 presidents before her were helpless in this subject, rice production grew 5% in the last 5 years, she has started a program towards increased productivity that would reduce imports by 25%.

Gloria Arroyo is as wily as a weasel and as astute as a fox. Her lucky streak may hold up until 2010, the end of her Official term. She remains unmindful of her unpopularity, her low credibility and negative trust rating. She does what she deems fit for the country whether its to uplift the nation or simply perpetuate herself in position until she steps down in less than 3 years. She has often skillfully outmaneuvered the opposition despite being in very untenable positions. At barely 5 ft., the diminutive Gloria Arroyo has cast a giant shadow in the Philippine political landscape. However, with all her power and all the luck she has enjoyed, the Filipino people always seem to be getting the short end of the deal.



Kim said...

sounds like rice is the gold of Asia Durano....
we eat a lot of rice here....though my children prefer white to brown rice....
my Mum makes a delicious sweet boiled rice with sultanas and cream ..yum !!

joanjoyce said...

it is just but sad to know that we are the one who thought our neighboring countries how to plant rice, we used to be the number one exporter of it but now its the other way around.

Is this what YAP is telling us that there is no shortage when every year the importing of rice increases its volume.

Is this what our dear president sees as economic growth? Maybe NOT!

Zhu said...

Must be why my in-laws bought 6 bags of rice last week-end, currently sitting in the basement... :D

No kidding, I saw a lot of Asians buying rice lately, and obviously staking up.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Kim,

Rice is critical to the Asian diet, and in rural areas, vegetables can be planted and simply blanched, eaten with rice, and voila! instant nutritious meal.

There are varieties of rice that's used for sweets, and there are several varieties of sweets that can be made from the flour of these varieties.

We even boil the rice with coconut milk and as it thickens,is laid flat on a pan; then we add a little brown sugar on top. The left over coconut milk is fried into crisp bits like bread crumbs and placed on top of the melted sugar laid out on the rice that had mixed with it like jelly. These are then cut up into smaller squares for serving. As a final touch, a slice of jackfruit is placed on top of each serving. This is eaten together with fresh ripe mangoes. Yummy!!

Brown rice is the more nutritious rice but it's a little difficult to cook.White rice has been stripped of all nutrients like carotene, vitamins, and all other micro-nutrients needed by the body.

This is making me salivate.Thanks for dropping by. Nice to see you up and about. I hope you were able to complete what you had been catching up on. Have a pleasant weekend. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Joanjoyce,


We did teach other Asian countries our rice planting technology, and we were self-sufficient and exported part of our produce. This was during the 70's under the Green Revolution of Ferdinand Marcos.

The problem then was that these varieties are almost always laboratory tested, and once planted in real conditions, were found to be susceptible to pests, drought, and and needed lots of fertilizer. The farmers then were given subsidies to plant these varieties under Masagana 99, if they would be members of the Samahang Nayon. They were thus given no choice except to grow the lab rice. After the first harvest, tons of fertilizers and pesticides had to be used, and these were provided on credit.

The farmers had no option but to sell all their rice to pay the debts, nothing was left for seeds. The bountiful harvest was not even enough to pay for the inputs, but the government took all the rice. The result is the farmers went bankrupt, lost their lands, and were displaced. They didn't even have seeds for planting. On top of this, the perticides, fertilizers and herbicides ruined the soil and poisoned its natural nutrients, such that field frogs, crabs, mudfish, and escargot (kuhol) all disappeared. They had nothing to eat. The land needed tons of chemicals to grow rice or needed to replenish its natural nutrients by not planting for up to 5 years.

We exported at a great cost to the land and the farmers. That was a one time export. Since then, we had been importing. We are now the world's number 1 importer.

The past governments after Marcos, from Aquino to Estrada had no agricultural program in place. Look around you, in the past Pasig, Marikina, Taytay, and all Rizal towns planted rice; now there are only malls and subdivisions. Valenzuela is all about factories. In the South expressway, that whole stretch was planted to sugar and rice - look at it now.

Our population has grown from 60 million in 1990 to almost 90 million today; but the space planted to rice has shrunk by 33%. This is why we will never cease to import. Unlike other Asian countries, we have the money to buy rice - that's the economic growth part GMA refers to. The price we paid is equal to 1% of our GDP.

I don't know if her program will be successful, but the landlords opting for more profits via subdivisions and industrial parks to evade land reform must be stopped. It is not only farmers who will benefit from land reform, but the security of the entire country because of a stable food supply.

The thing that is being pushed again is high yield varieties which is not suited for all types of land in the country. We should also revive the Ifugao rice terraces so that he abundance of brown rice will make it cheaper.

I've said too much already. Thanks for the comment. :-)--Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Zhu,

I read about your contest. It's a nice touch and very educational.

Asians are stocking up on rice because of the global scarcity resulting from climate conditions, population growth, urbanization, industrialization, and even bio-fuels. The Philippines was prepared to buy on forward deliveries because it had the money from the economic surge last year.

The country has no Supply shortage but we have a tremendous production shortfall. Other Asian countries, especially those in and below the poverty line are in danger of hunger since the scarcity brings with it higher prices, and worse - hoarding to take advantage of the expected higher prices.

Six bags you say? If these are 1 pound bags, this could last for 2-3 weeks if only two of them will eat 3 times a day. The next harvest may be 3-4 months away and supplies will really escalate before the next harvest comes.

If you eat rice, eat the brown one, it has more nutrients. White rice has been stripped and is all starch. :-) --Durano, done!

bloggista said...

Opportunists see opportunities in times of crisis. I still don't believe there's rice shortage, its only that production costs shoot up in the recent years. Plus, yeah, land conversion made it even worse. But still, these recent panics on rice shortage did the traders much needed boost to their profits. I think the government is in the right track warning hoarders and those people painting a shortage in rice - and these scumbugs should be punished heavily.

Just like oil, people are not queuing at the gas stations, there's no shortage but the oil cartel did managed to raise crude oil prices to historic level. If we panic, then we are doomed. I think this is one form of terrorism and people are really scared.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Bloggista,


There is no shortage of rice supplies for the Philippines because Thailand has delivered that would last until August, and the Vietnamese delivery in September will last until December.

But our production is very low compared to our consumption, that's why we import.

Hoarders are making a killing on the expected price increase but the raids will kill them too. The reason these were found out was because ordinary people reported the hoard to the authorities. That's what I call People Power. The benefit is for the people, not politicians! :-) --Durano, done!

The Fitness Diva said...

Hmmmmm....time to stock up. Can't live without my rice. I like brown at times, but Spanish saffron flavored rice with red beans is the best! Oh,and paella!! Mmmmmmm!
Man. I'm starting to get hungry myself!!

Hope they work this out. Doesn't the planet have enough problems already?

Kim said...

I will have to try out this delicious recipe Durano....yum...I love mangoes !!
it had my mouth watering too :)

I have left a private message for you at my explain recent happenings over my way...

spliceanddice said...

Rice is a political commodity as well, at par, if not more, with its status as a staple food in our tables. That being said, any crisis casting a giant shadow on the supply of rice would also create a stir in the politics of nation.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Fitness Diva,

Sorry for the late response. I didn't notice that there were comments left unread at the lower end.

Yes, I hope they can work this out, but at the rate we are destroying the atmosphere and pressuring the land with more people and technology that saps the nourishment of the soil at a faster rate, it will be a short sighted solution.

Change of lifestyle and eating habits is mandatory. Environmental protection too. Happy Eating! :-)--Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

HI Spliceanddice,


You are absolutely correct. As I said in the post, it can topple governments, and it is a stronger case than any of those investigations in Congress.

GMA's father, when he was President, suffered a rice crisis during his last year of a first term. He was popular then and could have won a re-election. But the rice crisis brought him down and Ferdinand Marcos assumed the presidency.

Thanks for dropping by and the comments. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Kim,

I have just read your message at MyBlogLog. I'm sorry I didn't see this message at once. I didn't see that comments were added to those previously posted.

I left a private message for you too at MyBlogLog. Thanks for sharing and explaining. I feel I am regarded as a true friend. :-)--Durano, done!

JD Cruz said...

Quoted a line from this entry in today's editorial about rice. Cheers!