Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Rice up to the occasion!

It seems that most of us and especially the government and the church have overlooked the relationship between environment, geographyt and rice supply. In 2006 in the International Geographic Union conference in Brisbane climate and food geographers have warned about the effects of rainfall shift (presumably due to global warming) and rice supply. In a well attended lecture two Japanese climatologists modelled the effect of the shifting monsoons and listed two countries that will be heavily impacted rain wise and rice wise. These are our beloved Filipinas and Vietnam! Thailand will be hit but not as bad as Vietnam and the Philippines.

The two nations are heavily dependent on monsoon flooding to irrigate their paddies. Their rapidly urbanizing societies are converting rice lands (in the coastal regions) and turning these into subdivisions and golf courses. This is related to a rapidly rising population. Socialist Vietnam has slowed down its population growth and reduced poverty. The Church meddled mallified Philippines has not slowed down population growth and its corrupt government has increased poverty.

Vietnam is more sufficient in rice than the Philippines but it has to see to it that it secures food security of its citizens. Thus Vietnam and to a certain extent Thailand have reduced its exports thereby driving the price of rice ever higher.

Now what has to be done? The band aid solution is to ensure more efficient farming methods and a more efficient transport of rice from farm to markets. The farming methods should be sustainable. One major problem in the Philippines aside from land conversion is decreasing soil quality. This affects agricultural productivity.

The longer term solutions include watershed restoration and a more sustainable policy of land conversion.

But government spokespeople have virtually guaranteed distrust (which seeds panic and hoarding) by issuing idiotic advisories such as requesting restaurants to serve half servings of rice. Quite late Queen Gloriana has started to manage the crisis hands on by directing the agriculture department to monitor more closely rice retailers to prevent hoarding and price manipulation. But the panic seems to have started, last Easter Sunday relatives from northern Luzon rice growing areas have warned us city slickers that the "kahirapan sa bigas" has begun and that we must start doing something about it. I was horrified to hear that Tagalog phrase which I last heard when I was in Grade 5 (thirty years ago!) when we were studying the history of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. We had a Lolo who lived through the war and he used that"kahirapan" phrase so many times in a talk to us kids.

But the shortage in 1942-1944 was caused by war, the shortage in 2008 is caused by environmental changes.

The problem of rice supply then put the Laurel government in danger of collapsing even it were propped by the Japanese. The lack of rice can topple governments.

But it isn't too late. We have to face the problem now.

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