Rice crisis begins in Zamboanga as rice smuggling starts
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said that the successful government campaign against perennial rice smuggling activities in the Southern Philippines resulted in a rice crisis in the island provinces of Tawitawi, Sulu and Basilan and the City of Zamboanga.
Piñol shared that for the longest time, the three island provinces relied on smuggled rice from either Vietnam or Thailand brought in through the backdoor via Sandakan in Sabah, Malaysia.
“The presence of smuggled rice in the markets of these areas has long been accepted and tolerated by the local authorities. In fact, at the height of the smuggling activities, nobody really cared about the NFA rice or even the local commercial rice,” Piñol said.
But a few weeks ago, Malaysia closed the borders and effectively stopping rice smuggling.
Caught off guard, rice traders suddenly scrambled to source rice from other areas but since it was the off-harvest season, there was hardly any rice available for sale.
In just a few weeks, prices of rice went up from about P38 per kilo as high as P70 per kilo.
Piñol said this story may sound funny but there are lessons to be learned here.
“We simply cannot rely on imported rice because as shown in the ZAMBASULTA rice crisis, the moment the tap runs dry we would have no farms to source our rice from. In response to the suggestion of our economic managers that we just buy imported rice rather than spend too much for our rice program, I have asked: What happens if our sources of imported rice stops selling to us and we no longer have rice farmers tilling the fields?” Piñol said.