Rice at P20 per kilo

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

It’s coming soon, so says President Marcos regarding his campaign promise to bring down rice to P20 per kilo from around P40 per kg at present.

In the government’s Kadiwa stores you can already buy rice at P25 per kg, Marcos said, although when some journalists went to check, they found none at this price.

Rice is expensive because production costs are high and demand is strong.

We’ve long been racking our brains on how to address the rice problem.

Staple problem

But what if we look at it from the demand side and not from the supply side?

I got this idea from Roberto P. Alingog, founding chairman of the Ropali Group of Companies and 2021 TOFIL or The Outstanding Filipino awardee.

The Ropali Group is a conglomerate of many businesses including Agribank, named one of the best employers for 2023, and rice harvester dealer Adamco.

Over dinner some weeks ago, Mr. Alingog shared with me his brilliant idea for an alternative staple food proposal.

I was struck by how practical and doable his idea is and why it may indeed be a possible solution to our perennial rice problem.

For starters, he proposed to define the problem not as a rice shortage but as a staple food problem. He noted that the Philippines has been unable to produce enough rice to match the demand for staple food.

Government data have shown approximately a shortfall of about 10 percent for the last 10 years as we produce only 90.29 percent of our consumption, he said.

As such, we may be able to solve the problem by encouraging Filipinos to consume alternative staple foods.

Triple C

These include camote, corn and cassava or the Triple C but there could be more.

The alternative crops he proposed have higher yield per hectare and lower production costs, RPA said, citing official data.

Sweet camote, for instance, has a yield of six metric tons per hectare with a production cost of P6.37 per kg.

White corn has a yield of 6 MT per hectare with a production cost of P6.60 per kg while cassava has a yield of 11 MT per hectare and a production cost of P3.84 per kg.

In contrast, rice has a yield of 4.1 MT per hectare with a production cost of P12.17 per kg.

Start ’em young

But how do you sell the idea of an alternative staple food to the Filipino people who have been used to eating rice for some time?

The key is to start them young. Of course this is easier said than done but it is possible.

“Children will prefer the taste of steamed rice if they have been brought up eating the staple from early childhood. Note that different cultures and different people have different staples. It must have been because culturally, they were fed the staple when they were young and they carried it to adult life. Given this truth, therefore, we can change the demand or preference for rice as a staple food if we start them young,” Mr. Alingog said.

He said the government must also embrace this as a long-term program, to be implemented in phases, because it will not solve the problem overnight.

The government can start by identifying the places where people are already eating alternative staple foods.

“It should be easier to increase the demand for alternative staple food in these places, like Cebu and Cagayan Valley for corn; Zamboanga for corn, cassava and camote than in places where culturally, the people are not familiar with the alternative staple food,” he also said.

The government can hold food festivals for these alternative staples, pretty much like the different presentations or versions of sashimi or sushi, to encourage those who do not consume these foods to try them.

How about nilagang camote, cassava or binatog or rice-corn blend?

Feeding programs in elementary schools are also a good starting point. The government can serve this Triple C – corn, camote and cassava – in schools to introduce them to the younger generation, Mr. Alingog said.

He narrated his experience growing up in the 60s.

“Consuming raw fish was unheard of in Isabela where I grew up. By the time I was in UP in the late 60s, my friends and I would consume four bottles of beer before we had the courage to eat sashimi. We did it because it was ‘cool’ to do it. Fast-forward with my kids, in the late 80s when they were between the ages of 8 and 15 years old, I do not recall any hesitations from them in consuming raw fish or sashimi, proving that because at that time, it was already OK to eat raw fish.”

Labor and wait

However, Mr. Alingog said the program is not going to take-off immediately.

“It may take a generation of persistent and focused effort for it to be successful,” he said.

I agree with his proposal. I also know that great things take time.

Who was it who said that Rome wasn’t built in a day?

Of course, these aren’t the only solutions. As I’ve written in the past, we can likewise improve the capacity of our farmers by putting post-harvest storage facilities. And there’s also the need to address the serious problem of smuggling and modernizing agriculture, etc.

And while we’re at it, how about having a full-time agriculture secretary as well?

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Email: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen on FB.

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