Something is going on in the Philippines (really worldwide, but it affects the Philippines greatly) that could lead to a great deal of unrest. It is something that touches the daily lives of Filipinos. If this is something that would be disrupted, or prices too highly, it could lead to dire consequences for the Nation.
I’m talking about Rice.
A few weeks ago, I read an article in an online newspaper about a recent rice auction. The Philippines, being the world’s biggest importer of rice went to this auction looking to buy 1.5 Million tons of rice for importing over the next 2 months. Unfortunately, the auction did not go the way that the Philippines was hoping – they could only buy about 20% of their rice needs, and at a price that was nearly double what they had paid in previous rice auctions.
This could lead to a crisis here, no doubt about. There are around 80 Million Filipinos, and probably 90% of them eat rice three times per day – breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is their staple of survival. Without rice, they may have to go hungry. The only place in the Philippines where rice is not as widely consumed, to my knowledge, is in the Cebu area. Many in Cebu prefer to eat corn grits as opposed to rice. Of course, a lot of rice is still consumed in Cebu, it is just marginally less than in many other parts of the country.
When I first read the news about the rice auction a few weeks ago, it was not a story that people here were talking about. I told Feyma to go buy a few extra sacks of rice for a backup, and while prices were still low. Now, though, this story is huge here in the Philippines. Rice has already increased in price by around 20 to 25% in those 3 weeks, with common varieties of rice now bringing about P33/kilo in the stores, compared to prices in the mid P20’s only a few weeks ago. President Arroyo keeps saying that there is no Rice shortage, yet prices keep climbing, and even world media is not talking about the potential of a rice shortage worldwide.
Philippine food giants like Jollibee, Chow King and McDonalds, followed by smaller restaurants are now offering “half sized” rice orders with meals in an effort to keep stocks of rice as full as they can, fearing a shortfall in coming months.
The Financial Times (FT) has even set up a whole new section of their website concentrating on Food Prices.
In addition to food chains offering half-sized orders, I believe that other steps can be taken. For example, at many food chains you cannot order food without rice! As an example, if you go to McDonald’s and want to get fried chicken, my MUST get rice with it, no choice. In my case, I don’t eat much rice. If I have Chicken at McDonalds (not often), I will order a chicken meal, which includes rice, and some french fries as a side order. I will eat the chicken with the fries, and I will throw the rice away when I am done. If I was given the chance of ordering the meal with no rice, that is what I would do every time. I have even asked them in the past to hold the rice (they still charge me for it, I understand that), but they refused to do so, meaning one more cup of rice in the garbage can. How inefficient and wasteful is that? And, this is not just at McDonald’s, it happens at many such fast-food chains here, rice MUST be ordered with your meal. I would have to think that if the restaurant chains re-examined their menu, they could make a significant savings on the amount of rice that they are serving without impacting the tastes of their customers.
What would happen in the Philippines if the rice supply dwindles? Frankly, I believe that it could lead to the toppling of the government here. Running out of rice, or seriously curtailing it’s consumption could lead to some very serious consequences. When you mess with people’s stomachs and leave them empty, times can get very serious.
Did you know that in the past 50 years the Philippines has gone from Asia’s top exporter of rice to now being the world’s top importer of rice? What is going wrong in the system? It is something that needs to be addressed!