SONA 2011

Aquino’s first year speech: Dubious claim on improved rice security

Aquino’s first year speech was not only very thin in substance but also claimed dubious achievements such as rice security (Photo by Raffy Lerma)

As usual, President Benigno S. Aquino III spent a big portion of his speech during his administration’s first anniversary rites yesterday blaming Mrs. Gloria Arroyo for the numerous problems facing the country. To be sure, the despised Arroyo administration has a lot to account for. But the people have long been waiting for actual charges to be filed against Gloria Arroyo for her corruption and human rights abuses. Sadly, after a year in office, all Aquino has done is whine while using Arroyo’s misdeeds to justify his own shortcomings. (Read the full text of his speech here)

The President, of course, also enumerated some accomplishments that his administration has supposedly achieved in the past year. One of the purported achievements Aquino highlighted is the improvement in the country’s rice security, to wit:

“Noon pong isang taon, barko-barkong toneladang bigas ang inaangkat, at katakut-takot din ang gastusin sa mga bodegang pinagtatambakan nito. 1.3 million metric tons lang po ang kailangan natin pampuno sa kakulangan ng ating ani, pero umangkat sila ng dalawang milyong metriko tonelada. Ngayon po, halos kalahati na lang ang inaangkat nating anim na raan at animnapung libong metriko tonelada.”

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has set a target of just 860,000 metric tons (MT) of rice imports this year from a record 2.45 million MT in 2010. According to the President, government is on track to meet its target based on first half figures. How did government achieve this? Again, quoting Aquino’s speech:

“Hindi po tayo nag-magic para dumami ang bigas na inaani natin dito: itinutok lang po natin ang pondo ng irigasyon sa kung saan ito pinakamura at mabisa; pinalawak ang paggamit ng maiging klase ng binhi; at pinalawig din ang upland rice farming. Lahat po ito, nagdulot ng dagdag na labinlimang porsyento sa ating inani noong huling taon, at ng pinakamataas na ani sa kasaysayan ng dry season cropping.”

Aquino credited his agriculture program promoting the more efficient use of irrigation, use of better rice varieties, and expanded upland farming for the improvement in rice yield by 15% and a record harvest for the dry cropping season.

But the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) has a different explanation behind the increased yield. Here’s a portion of their latest report Rice and Corn Situation Outlook, Vol. 25 No. 2, April 2011:

“The January-June 2011 palay production may reach 7.61 million MT, 14.9% higher than last year’s level of 6.62 million MT.  This could be attributed to the expansion in harvest area and improvement in yield compared to last year’s conditions when palay production was adversely affected by the El Niño phenomenon.  Area harvested may increase by 10.2% from last year’s record of 1.82 million hectares.  Yield per hectare may improve from 3.64 MT in 2010 to 3.80 MT this year.”  (Emphasis added)

(You may download BAS’s full report here)

Based on BAS’s report, the 15%-improvement in rice yield, which Aquino cited in his speech, can be attributed mainly to improved weather conditions. Palay production last year fell by more than 7% because of the drought. Thus, the supposed increase in yield is not really an expansion but merely a recovery from the 2009-2010-decline, pushed chiefly by favorable weather and not by any meaningful agricultural program. Yield per hectare, meanwhile, practically remained at its level before the 2010 El Niño, showing that productivity, which is a more reliable indicator of whether higher production is due to government intervention, did not really move. (See Table, lifted from the BAS report)

Moreover, the growth figures on rice production mentioned in Aquino’s speech – including the supposed all-time high harvest for the dry cropping season – are just based on projections and not on actual records.  In his most recent statement to the media (July 27), Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said that, “Palay production in the first half of this year may reach 7.6 million metric tons” and that “this estimated output will put the government about halfway toward achieving its full-year target palay production of 17.46 million tons.” Alcala was quoting the BAS estimates cited in the April 2011 edition of the Rice and Corn Outlook.

Alcala’s confidence is hinged on the strong performance of rice production in the first quarter of the year when it reached 4.04 million MT or almost 16% higher than during the same period last year. For full-year 2011, the DA expects total production to reach 17.46 million MT, “barring any major weather disturbance.”

Lastly, the favorable rice supply in the first half of the year benefited as well from the over-importation of rice by the Arroyo administration in 2010. An audit team formed by the National Food Authority (NFA) disclosed that last year, there was an over-quantity of about 0.82 million MT in rice imports. This boosted the buffer supply of the NFA reducing the need for more importation.

Aquino’s first year speech was already very thin in substance particularly in terms of accomplishments. Worse, even the few achievements specified by the President like the rice supply situation seem highly dubious. (End)