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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More articles on the rice crisis and the growing population

Population growing faster than rice?

Hern P. Zenarosa
Manila Bulletin Online

The chronic social and economic problems that besiege the country today are being dramatized daily by the long lines of poor people trying to buy a few kilos of government rice for their families.

And they are those with few pesos for the day’s staple food.

Now, government planners point to the population growth as the culprit: They say the population is growing faster than the palay in the vanishing rice fields.

And they are made worse by the financial burdens of raising unwanted children.

The fact is that the risks to unwanted children of the poor range from threats to personal safety to long-term poverty, low educational achievements, and life-long economic dysfunction.

It’s official: First results of the census of the country’s population conducted by the National Statistics Office placed the Philippine population at 88.5 million as of August 1, 2007, up from 86.6 million the year before.

This population growth rate went down from 2.36 percent to 2.04 percent but the government failed to meet its target of reducing the growth rate to 1.95 percent. The Philippines has the second fastest growing population in Asia.

Analysts explained the slowing population growth rate as a reflection of a growing economy: When economies grow, the demographics change. Others credit the Filipino workers diaspora overseas where families are broken up, as another factor in the slowdown.

No one said that the slowdown was because of the government’s family planning program because there is virtually none, except for the natural family planning program being promoted by the Health Department.

Now, while the population is growing, the production of the country’s staple is going down or not catching up with population growth.

In fact, there are frantic efforts to import rice from abroad, especially Thailand and Vietnam.

The Philippines is the world’s biggest importer of rice, says the Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute.

According to the National Food Authority it plans to import 2.2 million tons of rice this year, its biggest importation in a decade. But there are problems ahead: Less than twothirds of the country’s offer to import rice have been met by responses from exporters – and at a much higher price.

Some members of President Gloria Arroyo’s Cabinet have called for a more comprehensive family planning program that includes all artificial methods of child spacing such as pills, IUDs, condoms, vasectomy, and ligation in addition to natural family planning, minus abortion.

Leading the appeal is Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, backed by NEDA Director General Augusto Santos and Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral.

Malacañang, however, has announced that it will stick to its support of natural family planning which is the only method backed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

It seems that between political and social unrest due to the rice crisis and the anger of the Catholic Church, Malacañang has decided to stick it out with the Church as an ally.

In the meantime, there is an ongoing rice buying tension among the provinces. Bohol Gov. Eric Aumentado has prohibited Bohol rice traders from selling Bohol-grown rice to neighboring provinces. Likewise, a similar ban by Sorsogon Governor Sally Lee has angered Albay Governor Joey Salceda whose province is experiencing rice shortages. Salceda is insisting free market for the staple food.

The only rice-rich province that is exporting rice to nearby provinces is Aurora under Governor Bellaflor Angara-Castillo. She is the sister of Senator Edgardo J. Angara, chairman of the Senate agriculture committee, who is openly critical of the International Monetary Fund for downgrading Filipino farmers’ capacity to help solve the rice shortage.

Gov. Castillo is a reproductive health champion and has a modern family planning program in place in her province. This may be one reason her province can be generous with its rice surplus and not hoard it for the future needs of her constituents.

What happens now to the R2 billion allocated for reproductive health services under the General Appropriation Act of 2008? It is possible that it will be used by some provinces but it will be an uneven, sometimes wasteful affair, given the different experiences and expertise on modern family planning available at the local government level.

Surely, there is nothing compared to a highly visible national family planning program led by Malacañang, but the days of a successful program headed by then Health Secretary Juan Flavier under the Fidel Ramos administration will have to wait for the new President elected in 2010. (


Philippine Daily Inquirer
April 19, 2008/ Marlon Ramos

A GROUP OF REPRODUCTIVE health advocates yesterday urged the government to immediately implement a stringent and long-term population program to minimize the adverse effects of the looming food crisis.

The Forum for Family Planning and Development Inc. (FFPDI) also called on the Roman Catholic clergy to rethink their opposition to artificial birth control methods.

According to the group, the expanding population will only undermine the efforts of the Arroyo administration to bring about economic development, especially in the countryside.

Population and food production are two intertwined factors. You cannot ignore the other and hope to solve the countrys woes, said Benjamin de Leon, FFPDI president.

By 2050, the Philippines would already be the 10th most populous country in the world based on the projection of the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), the group said.

2.1 percent growth

At the current 2.1 percent annual growth rate, the group said the population would have grown to at least 69 percent more from the current 80 million at the time.

Millions of Filipinos suffer from poverty due to large and unplanned families. Unless we give priority to the problem of ballooning population, every effort to counter poverty would be pointless, De Leon said.

He added, Unless the government implements a serious population program and the Church abandons its strong opposition to family planning, rice and food crises will continue to plague the country as demand for food increases.

De Leon said statistics from the Department of Agriculture showed that the national daily consumption of rice was currently at 33,000 metric tons, about 4,000 metric tons more than the countrys rice consumption a few years ago.

In only a year, he said, the countrys per capita consumption of rice rose from 103.16 kilos in 2007 to 134 kilos this year.

He said the data indicated that 21 percent of children under 5 years old would be underweight in the next few years.

Shrinking land

De Leon said that as the population increased, land devoted for food production decreased as arable and agricultural lands gave way to industrial, residential and commercial use.

He said the problem of diminishing agricultural land was further worsened by the rising demand in biofuels.

The PRB data likewise projected that by 2050, the country will have only 28 percent natural habitat, or land that has not been converted to human use, he warned.

By that time, he said, at least 296 Filipinos will have to share with each other every square kilometer of land in the country.