“Now that the price of rice is increasing and our government is having a hard time securing enough imports, I think you should reconsider your position...” That’s one comment I recently got in reaction to my blog on rice self-sufficiency. My answer: my view hasn’t changed.
But first, allow me to highlight the good news. The news says rice prices are about to drop due the onset of the harvest season. This must be a dampener for those who are conjuring a Malthusian scenario lately. These guys just don’t understand the power of price signals!
Now back to the issue.
Could we really achieve “self-sufficiency” in rice? Could we really produce all the rice that we need? Some experts doubt it given geographical constraints and rapid population growth, but I say why not? If we could only have rapid adoption of high-yielding varieties, especially hybrids, we might yet lick the issue or address a critical part of it. About 60 percent of China’s rice fields are planted to hybrids (that’s according to SL Agritech); no wonder they are not losing sleep about the supposed “rice shortage.” Why can’t we do the same especially in irrigated areas?
But how do you promote hybrids or even just high-yielding open pollinated varieties? It’s not through government seeds subsidy that will only be dissipated in corruption. The money is better spent on irrigation and other rural infrastructure. If there’s one disincentive to agricultural productivity, it’s the lack of adequate farm infra.
The way government is subsidizing certified seeds is one sure way of destroying the seed industry that is crucial in agricultural growth. Why? It’s because when government dangles the money, some unscrupulous rice seeds suppliers who simply want a fast buck come in, many of them selling low quality seeds (low germination). The farmers naturally get burned and wouldn’t use certified or hybrids next cropping season. Result: the market for these high-yielding seeds shrinks. This is actually happening these days.
Solution? No subsidy; just allow the private seeds producers to come directly to the farmers and offer their wares. Surely, any seeds producer trying to develop the seed market for his business would make it a point to provide the best seeds so that he would have repeat orders. That way, farmers would also have a choice on what rice seeds and technology to employ. And there’s no place for fly by night seeds producers under this policy environment.
But hey, we are funny! We want to be “self-sufficient” and yet we want our rice so cheap that farmers are not making money. So actually we want them to remain miserable while we urbanites enjoy the cheap rice they are producing. Crazy!