Impending food crisis?

THERE is a story about Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, who was told that the peasants have no more bread to eat. The queen was quoted to have replied, “let them eat cakes”. This callous reply was actually not hers, but through the years this was attributed to the queen. She, of course, could have said it, but she was not the originator. However, true or not, she was executed by the French revolutionary government on October 16, 1793.

The point in this attribution was her way of life of insensitivity to the plight of her people. She lived in opulence surrounded by intrigue so that this “give them cake” attitude became her signature in history. The phrase summarizes in a way the “out-of-touch” and indifference of those in power who could not feel the sufferings of others especially those to whom they, by virtue of their office, must account.

Before he left for the Middle East, President Duterte warned rice traders against hoarding which many people suspect is the real cause of the scarcity of rice in the market. In truth there is no scarcity, but rather that the price is high. In fact, Agriculture Secretary Manuel Piñol considers the scarcity to be limited to the low cost National Food Authority rice. Many people however do not like the NFA variety because of its taste, but this is the rice that is within reach of most Filipinos. It is cheap because it is subsidized by the government precisely to provide an alternative to what is called commercial rice.

Due to the scarcity of NFA rice, people are forced to buy commercial and true to the law of supply and demand, the price of commercial rice also went up. The situation is ripe for hoarding because NFA, an agency under the DA, had failed to import rice for the period between planting and harvest. Now that the harvest is about to start, importing rice at this time means that when the imported rice arrived, we will be in the harvest season. This will force the price of local rice to drop with disastrous consequences to future supplies.

Senator Francis Escudero is reading the situation right – there is an impending food crisis.

Unless the price of rice and other food products – fish, meat, pork, canned goods and vegetables – are kept within the capability of the majority of the citizens, we will be in difficult times. In fact, not only the ordinary citizens are feeling the pinch of the high cost of food. The middle classes, the government workers, and professionals are already dipping deeper into their pockets and wallets.

Speaker Gloria Arroyo was quick to realize this predicament – she is granting a bonus to the employees of the House of Representatives by P35,000 a month. This bonus already represents two months income of many people. She is not only insuring the House employees their bread, she is giving them cakes as well.

What about the rest of the citizens? Senator Bam Aquino was interviewed on television on Monday and he said that our inflation rate is already going high to 6% but this will rise some more by January because new taxes will take effect. While manufacturers are saying they can keep the lid on their prices, they cannot continue holding it after December. Expect then some people to start hoarding while the prices are “low” for now.

The government will continue to impose higher excise tax on fuel. This runs right into the rising cost of oil in the world market. Considering how prices in the pumps affect everything from beer to electricity and tuition fees, we are in for some hard times.

We have not yet reached a point of rice and sugar rationing as in mid-1970s, followed by the high prices of fish and meat. Unless the President takes action rather than just warn rice traders, we may get hit again. He said he will retain Piñol but Piñol can only suggest legalizing rice smuggling. Nothing reassuring.

We are not yet in the same situation as Argentina, Venezuela, and Turkey but if our economic managers do not handle the situation right we might join their company. Heaven forbids we will be told to eat hamburgers instead.

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