Philippines’ anti-smuggling crackdown sparks rice shortage ‘crisis’
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Philippines’ anti-smuggling crackdown sparks rice shortage ‘crisis’

PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte’s promise to stop smuggling activities along the country’s borders has had unforeseen consequences and resulted in a severe rice shortage in southern provinces.

His assurance, made to Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad last month, has caused the more than 1.6 million people of Tawi-Tawi, Sulu and Basilan and Zamboanga City, to face “very limited” supplies of the staple food.

Despite the success of the Philippines’ campaign against illegal activities, the country’s southern provinces are experiencing a “crisis,” its Agriculture Ministry said on Monday.

For years, the population in the southern provinces relied on cheaper smuggled rice from the Malaysian state of Sabah, Vietnam and Thailand. Local farmers stopped growing the crops as they could not compete with the prices of the illegal imports.

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Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said he would propose the importation of an additional 132,000 tonnes of rice by the private sector to Duterte and the National Food Authority (NFA) Council.

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(file) A farmer harvests rice on a rice paddy field outside Hanoi, Vietnam, June 7, 2018. Source: Reuters/KhamÊ

Last week, Zamboanga City and Isabela City in Basilan declared a state of calamity, citing the high prices of rice, according to Reuters.

Piñol described the situation in Tawi-Tawi as “precarious” as residents lined up for rice at prices as high as 100 pesos (US$2.00) per kilogram, almost triple the price of government-subsidised rice.

“The rice crisis was declared to have ended the other day in Zamboanga City with the arrival of new rice stocks from farmers cooperatives … and the NFA, (but) Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi are still gripped with very limited supply of rice,” Piñol said.

Rude awakening

On Tuesday, Piñol said the shortage was also a “rude awakening” for both the NFA Council and his agriculture department, but said he remained hopeful that the problem would be resolved.

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“It could be corrected, I’m not losing hope,” Piñol said.

Piñol criticised the NFA council for its delayed decision to import rice to Zamboanga City, but fell short of blaming them for the crisis.

“I don’t want to point blaming finger on anybody, but if we talk about facts, that’s the fact,” Piñol said, as reported by the Inquirer.

“I will not accuse the members of the council of ill-motives, these people are patriots, they work hard; but I think they’re not well-grounded.”