Pres. Arroyo rallies Filipinos, ASEAN to unite in resolving food security issue
by Babes J. Rebultan
Cagayan de Oro City (22 May) -- IN keynoting yesterday's opening of the three-day 16th ASEAN Farmers' Week Celebration and Joint Convention of Rural-Based Organizations (RBOs) at the Grand Caprice, Limketkai Center in Cagayan de Oro City, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo urged Filipinos and emerging nations in ASEAN to unite in addressing the vital issue of food security.
"That is why we should all work with the International Rice Research Institute located in the Philippines to explore ways of meeting the future needs for rice in the Philippines and that of other rice-producing countries in ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations)," the President told the more than 1,500 delegates representing the RBOs nationwide and some 30 representatives from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
"These techniques range from ensuring that farmers are aware of and can use the latest techniques in crop establishment to making sure that social safety nets are in place," she added.
"This will help prevent any global food crisis in the longer term," President Arroyo pointed out.
"We must work together in the Philippines and in ASEAN to improve agronomic practices, enhance the ability to utilize rice varieties more effectively and promote rice breeding and build training capacity," the President said, adding that this would help prevent any global food crisis in the longer term.
On the issue of rice management, which is a national, ASEAN and global problem, President Arroyo said the government saw the problem coming and has since responded based on three basic needs.
First, to ensure supply of rice, the government reached out to ASEAN neighbor rice exporters long before the shortage came, and invested heavily in rice production efficiencies and new strains, especially on hybrid, the President said.
Second, the government is making sure that rice distribution gets to people who need it most, the President added.
Third, "we must be vigilant that unscrupulous traders do not price-gouge and exploit the situation. We are making sure that anyone caught robbing the people of rice is punished," President Arroyo stressed.
The President also told the Filipiņana-dressed audience that since she assumed office, her administration focused on the economy and modernization of agriculture, among other "economic underpinnings."
This include the "development of new hybrids, to investments in irrigation to dramatic increases in loans to help our farmers purchase the needed equipment, among other activities," the President pointed out.
President Arroyo said she directed the government to go after price gouging; hike the rice supply where it is most needed; "invest more in planting and agricultural modernization; and provide rice subsidies for the poor."
The President also revealed the implementation of the FIELDS (Fertilizer; Irrigation and infrastructure; Equipment, education and extensions; Loans; Dryers and post-harvest facilities; and Seeds) program.
FIELDS enabled the government to increase rice production by 5.69 percent-"more than the population growth rate of 2.04 percent," she added.
"This is the result of our on-going economic, including agriculture, reforms," the President emphasized, adding that these will help improve the livelihood of every Filipino in the longer term.
President Arroyo, at the same time, said, "We have yet to determine the long-term plan for the National Food Authority, but it would be a mistake to shift all of our attention to long-term policies at the expense of near-term efforts to stabilize the situation and put food on the table for our people."
"For now we have the supply issue well in hand. The price, of course, is another matter. Clearly this global phenomenon is a global wake up call that we must address both individually and collectively as ASEAN," the President told the Farmers Summit.
"We must work together to resolve this," President Arroyo said. (PIA-MisOrOccCam) [top]