BIZLINKS By Rey Gamboa
Philippine Star, Friday, April 25, 2008
The current commodity crisis, global and local, is a simple case of basic economics: dwindling supply and rising demand equals higher prices.
In the Philippines, the issue of rapid population growth and falling acreage of land for farming are fundamental reasons, aggravated by inefficient governance and corruption. And well, basic economics as well, as low prices in the past discouraged farming.
Population growth has long been a crux of the Philippines’ economic potential. Even before problems in the supply of rice and wheat hogged the headlines, the country’s rising population has long been diagnosed as a factor setting back growth.
Previously, the correlation was quite indirect even among economists who had long pointed out that the increasing population would tend to stymie government’s efforts to reduce poverty, and thus stall expansion.
Now, it couldn’t be any more direct than not having enough of the nation’s staple food to feed a population of 88.6 million, based on an August 2007 survey.
Outpacing rice production
As politicians like former President Fidel Ramos and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman so astutely pointed out, the annual population expansion has outpaced the growth in rice production, thus threatening food security.
As it is, the country produces more than four-fifths of its requirement of the staple grain and importing the remainder. Sourcing the deficit has become more difficult and certainly more expensive as exporting countries like Vietnam is starting to curb overseas sales to, naturally, secure its own requirement.
Population as a major factor to food security is highlighted by the fact that the Philippines produces more rice than Thailand and yet because the latter has less mouth to feed, with a population of 65 million, Thailand can afford to export and is a major rice supplier in the region.
Thailand’s population grows at an average rate of 1.4 percent while the rate in the Philippines, granted it had dropped to 2.04 percent from 2.36 percent, remains twice that of the regional average of 1.1 percent.
Next year, the estimated population of 92.2 million will consume 9.75 million metric tons of rice, rising from the expected 9.56 million metric tons to be consumed by the nation in 2008.
In 2000, with a population of 76.5 million, rice consumption was only at 7.89 million metric tons. The Philippines’ rice production grows at an average of 1.9 percent as of year 2000 while population growth was at 2.04 to 2.36 percent.
Unsuccessful population management campaign
That the Philippines has the biggest ratio of Catholics in the region and that the church has managed to influence every administration’s population policy because of its perceived voting power are given.
Every Congress has a bill proposing population management by both natural and artificial means; the most basic tools to allocate limited resources to a growing number of people. Most bills proposed have always zeroed in on improving awareness, making sure everybody knows the implications and economics of having children each year and giving couples a choice on how to space their families by teaching them both natural and artificial birth control methods.
The church will never bend its teachings so it’s up to the government – and it always has been – to enforce policies that will lead to a greater good. But the chances of this administration, unpopular as it is, ever contradicting the Catholic Church’s position on population management are highly unlikely.
It will have to be the initiative of couples, seeing how badly eroded their purchasing power had become with rising fuel and food prices, to make sure that each child they bring into this world would be fed, clothed, educated and cared for.
Managing food prices
Since the government seems unwilling to confront the political sensitivity of an aggressive population management program, perhaps what the government should at least do is to take steps to dramatically increase agricultural production level and ensure that food prices, especially that of rice, won’t increase unreasonably.
As a starter, and as quickly as possible, government should provide and release significant funds for the upgrading of all irrigation infrastructure and facilities. New bridges, airport facilities are fine but we must first allocate the scarce resources to what the fast growing number of Filipinos mouths to feed need most – food, food and more food.
I understand that the basic infrastructures for a broad-based irrigation system are in place and what are sorely needed are the connecting facilities that will bring water to the fields where it is needed. By all means, let’s have them as fast as possible, even if in the process some “greed” has to be moderately satisfied.
Another must action for the government is the strict enforcement of a law banning conversion of irrigated and irrigable lands. President Arroyo need not issue an executive order to address this concern since as early as 1997 an executive order was issued tackling this issue. The problem, as always in this country, has been enforcement.
The hoarding, smuggling, profiteering and all other illegal acts that would somehow ramp up the prices of rice and other basic commodities would have to be curbed while the government continues to dodge the population issue.
Philippine Collegiate Champions League
Recently, a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between BAP-Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) was signed to officially launch the Philippine Collegiate Championship games for 2008.
Although Champions League is on its 6th year of search for the best collegiate team in the country, this year’s competition is broader in reach and will give more provincial collegiate teams the opportunity to challenge the more publicized teams in Metro Manila.
The first of a series of steps towards the championship is the competition of teams in their respective “mother leagues” with the winners advancing to the regional area championship to determine the regional champions that will compete in the zonal championships.
In the zonals, the regional champions will meet with qualified teams from Metro Manila to earn slots in the “Sweet 16” final challenge to be held in Manila.
The last team standing after the “Sweet 16” knockout games is declared the Philippine Collegiate Champion for 2008 and will represent the country in international collegiate basketball competitions. The top four teams of the championship will also earn for their respective schools grants for athletic scholarships.
Watch this space for more updates about this exciting event.
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