Unkind cut

President Aquino needs some thinkers in his entourage.

Consider the unkind cut he made about Filipino farmers needing some lessons from the Vietnamese on how to grow rice, cultivate other crops.

His statement has been slammed by Felix Paz of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and other farmers who believed he should be the last man on the planet to tell them how to grow crops.

It is unfortunate that in spite of having two guys heading the messaging and dissemination processes, he still has to have an idea man who can save him from saying what should not be said.

For one, the President probably does not even know that on a per hectare basis, Filipino rice farmers produce more than their Vietnamese counterparts.

This fact has been noted in Southeast Asian circles for a long time and it pains us to note that the President was the last one to know about this.

It is unwise to engage in self-criticism overseas, and neither is it kind to mock or ridicule the teeming millions of farmers who do not enjoy the subsidies and support that the Vietnamese farmers get.

The Vietnamese government has a policy of guaranteeing a 20 percent return on investments (ROI) for farmers, and this incentive alone has perked up interest in producing better grain for the world market.

Sad to say, the Philippines imports the worst type of rice that money can buy in Vietnam.

Moreover, it is also the policy of Hanoi that a technician lives in farming communities, ready to work 24/7 to assist farmers. Here, we have devolved the function from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and seconded the technicians to the local government units (LGUs), many of which are not even interested in improving farming. Worse, these LGUs have no money to pay for the salaries of technicians!

Think again. Some of these technicians are holders of doctorate degrees and yet they work in the farms, not in air-conditioned offices, and enjoy the use of laptops and access to the agriculture ministry.

Vietnam also enjoys a high level of farm mechanization, with more than 1,300 companies competing to improve machinery and invent new gadgets to reduce post-harvest losses.

President Aquino should read this. While Vietnam has 1,300 such firms, the number of Filipino companies engaged in developing machinery has dwindled from 27 to only 12.

Others have closed shop since they cannot compete with the compradors that simply bring in second- and third-hand gear.

Vietnam knows how to perk up the agricultural machinery industry simply by banning the entry of used agricultural equipment and machinery from South Korea, China and Taiwan, thus giving protection to domestic machinery producers.

Do we need to take lessons in growing crops from the Vietnamese? No, we don’t. We have taught them how to hack it decades ago and it would be foolish for the old teacher to learn from the young master.

The Palace should take lessons in history and political economy understand why landless peasants do not produce more rice, why land conversions have reduced rice farms substantially, and why globalization has acted as a brake for increased domestic rice production.

Let classes begin. Joel Paredes


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