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MANILA - Rice experts at the Asian Development Bank said the Aquino administration will be unable to achieve its rice self-sufficiency target by next year because of the lack of productive infrastructure needed to make this possible.
"Resource costs for rice production seem much higher than neighboring countries such as Viet Nam, Thailand and Cambodia. A large part of productive labor works overseas," said Bui Minh Giap, a natural resources and agriculture economist in ADB's Southeast Asia department.
"Despite recent progress, land reform measures have been far from successful. Therefore there has been insignificant private/household investment in on-farm productive infrastructure," Giap added.
Lourdes Adriano, ADB's specialist for agricultural and rural development and food security, said farmers must have access to appropriate inputs like fertilizers, technologies and market information to make farming viable for them.
"But aside from the returns-costs factor, there are also sectoral and macro policies that need to be in place. Farmers will need to access markets, but with poor farm-to-market roads and poor storage facilities, they will lose a lot," she said.
Adriano said the macro policies involve government spend on production, such as irrigation, and market infrastructure, like roll-on, roll off port facilities. The government must also provide enabling policies for farming to become a profitable venture.
"Sea transport regulations in the Philippines are so prohibitive that it is less costly to transport corn from Thailand than from Mindanao, or enabling farmers to have the choice to produce crops that will generate them more income," Adriano said.
In lieu of self-sufficiency to cushion them from price shocks and shortage, countries must work on developing food chain logistics, which means linking farms to processing, storage or markets, Adriano said, adding that countries must also ensure efficient use of resources for sustainable production and reduce wastes.
Food shortage and price hikes can also be averted by "improving access to safe and nutritious food to the poor and vulnerable, for example, through conditional cash transfers and targeted food safety nets," she said.
Giap said food security is not just about the availability of the food but also about access to safe and nutritious food via more intra-provincial trade and inter-country trade relations.
"Cambodia is self-sufficient in rice but the fragmentation in the rice value chain, plus the lack of the associated infrastructure, are the major bottlenecks. Yes, Cambodia will be affected by the price shocks as it is strongly linked to supplies in Thailand and Viet Nam," he said.
Giap said price shocks in Cambodia are mainly localized due to the inefficiency and bottlenecks in distribution.
That said, the working papers on the ASEAN Rice Trade Forum suggested that there should be less emphasis on self-sufficiency to avoid world rice price shocks such as the case in 2008. According to Adriano, the food price spike four years ago was not caused by speculation in the commodities market but rather was a confluence of low global food stocks, bad weather and unilateral implementation of food bans and import restrictions.
These papers said that to avoid a recurrence of the crisis, there should be reduced export restrictions, expansion of coordinated rice policies with India and Pakistan, and having a regional rice commodities exchange.
Giap said ASEAN must agree to opening rice trade and not to unilaterally imposing restrictions that only constrict rice regionally and globally, adding that the best option is for ASEAN members to discuss this with multi-stakeholders.
In addition, the regional bloc must work for more transparent and real-time market information, and sharing of technology and good farming practices.
"On ASEAN Infrastructure Fund, it may be useful to earmark development of food logistics infrastructure and trade facilitation measures," Giap said.
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