Rice price hike, ‘job misery’ major causes of hunger in PH

David Lozada
Data show a 'very slow reduction' in hunger incidence in the last 5 years despite the country experiencing 'respectable' growth in GDP

POOREST. A study conducted by the UP School of Statistics notes that the rise in the price of rice mostly affects the poorest 30% of Filipinos. Photo from Shutterstock

MANILA, Philippines – The rise in the price of rice and job misery are major causes of high hunger incidence in the Philippines, a study conducted by the University of the Philippines School of Statistics (UPSS) found. 

“The increases in the price in the local market is one of the major reasons for the spike in hunger incidence during the period. Another key factor affecting hunger incidence is the availability and the quality of jobs,” Dr Dennis Mapa of UPSS said on Wednesday, September 23, in the symposim “Towards Zero Poverty.” 

Data from the government and private institutions showed a “very slow reduction” in hunger incidence in the last 5 years. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the percentage of “extremely poor” Filipinos decreased slightly from 10.9% of the population in 2009 to 10.4% in 2012.

These, despite the fact that the country had experienced “respectable” growth in its gross domestic product (GDP) from 2010 to 2014 under the Aquino administration. (READ: SONA 2015: The state of agriculture, fisheries under Aquino)

Rice inflation

According to the study, the rise in the price of rice affects the poorest Filipino families. 

The price of rice, considered a staple in most Filipino households, had been steadily increasing the past years. Inflation, Mapa said, should be checked on two levels.

“We only focus on headline inflation when we should also be looking at the consumer price index (CPI),” he added. 

The CPI looks at inflation in reference to the poorest 30% of Filipinos. For example, the study found that inflation rate among the poorest 30% in the 3rd quarter of 2008 was 19.3% compared to the headline inflation of 13.9% that was reported. 

Mapa said this is because poor families spend 70% on food, with 23% of that expenditure spent on rice, while families in the middle and upper classes spend only 30% on food.

“The shock in the rise of the price of rice in a quarter increases the total hunger incidence in the next quarter,” Mapa, citing the study, said.

The study noted that the impact of the change on the price of rice on hunger incidence almost doubled after the global rice price crisis in 2008. (READ: The problem with rice)

Job misery index

The study also found a relationship between job misery index (JMI) and hunger incidence. 

JMI is considered the sum of employment and unemployment rates. It looks at both the quantity and quality of jobs. 

As in rice inflation, an increase in the JMI in one quarter leads to an increase in hunger incidence in the next quarter, the study found. The country’s high JMI also means that a large percentage of labor resources are underutilized.

Innovations in rice

FIGHT AGAINST POVERTY. (L-R) Dr Dennis Mapa of UPSS, Dr Roehlano Briones, Dr Rafaelita Aldaba of the Department of Trade and Industry, and Dr Bruce Tolentino of IRRI answer questions from the audience during the Towards Zero Poverty symposium. Photo by Bea Orante/ Rappler

Dr Bruce Tolentino of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), speaking in the same panel, said changes are happening in the country’s rice sector. 

“Our farmers respond to what is happening around them. They respond to incentives, policy…trying their best to survive the best they can,” he said.

Tolentino added that land reform sped up starting 1987. The number of owned farm lands is increasing, while shared tenancy is decreasing. While wet season yields plateaued at 4 tons per hectare (t/ha), dry season yields almost doubled in the past 5 decades.

The Philippines is also the lowest user of insecticides among other rice-producing countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and China.

Compared to Vietnam and Thailand, however, the growth of the Philippines harvested rice area remained slow. Vietnam’s rice harvested area increased from 4.7 million hectares (mh) to 7.7 mh from 1961 to 2012, Thailand from 6.1 mh to 10.8 mh, the Philippines from 3.2 mh to only 4.7 mh.

Challenges

Big challenges remain for the rice industry, according to IRRI. One is the effect of climate change, which worsens flooding during the wet season.

While IRRI had invented rice breeds that can survive 17 to 21 days of floods, Tolentino said the floods can still be avoided.

“We call it man-made disasters. Floods are worsened by infrastructures like poultry farms and highways that block water flow,” he said. (READ: Making rice cultivation more eco-friendly)

The number of high school and college graduates among young farmers and farmers’ children has also been increasing in 5 decades. While this might seem to be a good thing, it might be troubling seen farming has now become just a side business.

“In 1979, the average age of farmers was 43. In 2011, it was 59,” Tolentino said, noting that many farmers’ children now take non-farming jobs. 

Outsourcing of farm labor, according to IRRI, may increase inefficiency due to (1) the frequent replacement of labor, and (2) new laborers are increasingly less skilled.

Tolentino concluded that the way forward is for the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Food Authority (NFA) to align their missions and metrics. 

“Towards Zero Poverty” was organized by the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) to conclude their project of the same name which studied poverty reduction through inclusive growth. – Rappler.com

Farmer planting rice photo via Shutterstock.