Tuesday, January 07, 2020

7 th Jaanuary 2020 daily global regional local rice e-newsletter

PHL shoots for rice output of 19.6 MMT
A farmer uses a hand tractor to plow a rice field before planting palay seedlings in Tanay, Rizal, in this BusinessMirror file photo.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) is targeting to expand the country’s paddy rice output this year by at least 6.5 percent to a record-high of nearly 20 million metric tons (MMT). The DA said it is banking on the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) and its hybrid rice program to increase palay output to 19.6 MMT, from last year’s estimated 18.4 MMT. The DA has earlier slashed its projected total palay output for 2019 to 18.4 MMT, from 19 MMT following a series of typhoons that battered the farm sector in December. Typhoon Ursula (international code name Phanfone) and Typhoon Tisoy, (international code name Kammuri) which struck the Philippines last month, destroyed billions of pesos worth of crops, according to official government data. The damage and losses to agriculture due to Ursula alone reached P3.5 billion. The typhoon damaged some 39,000 metric tons of rice, corn, and high-value crops planted in Mimaropa, Bicol region, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, and Eastern Visayas. Citing the projection of Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), Agriculture Assistant Secretary Andrew B. Villacorta said palay output likely reached 19 MMT despite the damage caused by the storms. In its latest forecast, the PSA estimated that total palay production in 2019 likely remained flat at 19 MMT. In 2017, the Philippines recorded its highest palay output of 19.276 MMT, according to PSA data. Villacorta said the effects of the RCEF seed component, which provides free high-yielding seeds to rice farmers, would be seen this year and expansion of areas planted to hybrid rice would drive total production to hit record-high this year. He added that the DA is eyeing to expand hybrid rice area to about 500,000 hectares this year using its P7-billion rice program fund. Under the RCEF, the government would distribute P3 billion worth of inbred seeds to farmer-beneficiaries annually until 2024. “The 19.6 [MMT palay output target] for 2020 is still conservative,” Villacorta said during the DA’s press briefing last week. The country’s palay output in January to September 2019 fell by 5 percent to 11.32 MMT, from 11.91 MMT recorded in the same period of 2018, according to PSA. The country’s rice “adequacy” level last year fell to 85 percent following higher imports which reached a record-high 3-MMT volume. The Philippines’s rice self-sufficiency ratio (SSR) fell to an eight-year low in 2018, as more imports flowed into the country to plug the shortfall in domestic production, according to the PSA. The PSA said rice SSR declined in 2018 as domestic output shrank while the supply of imports went up. The PSA defines SSR as “the magnitude of production in relation to domestic utilization.” The SSR shows the extent to which a country’s supply of commodities is derived from its own domestic production.
Date: 06-Jan-2020

Rice exports: enjoy while it lasts

If there is one key take from SBP's first quarter “State of the Economy" report for FY20, it is that rice is now the undisputed king of Pakistan's kharif economy. At over three million hectares, the paddy crop is well-ahead of all other competitors.
Paddy's success has come about thanks to a multitude of factors, chief among them beings its lower cost of production compared to substitutes. According to indicative production costs calculated by Punjab's Agriculture Marketing Information Service department, indicative cost per acre during FY19 for both basmati and IRRI varieties were less than fifty thousand rupees. This is lower in comparison to indicative costs for all other major seasonal crops such as maize, seed cotton, or sugarcane, whose production costs ranges between rupees sixty to hundred thousand per acre.
At the same time, recovery in international demand for domestic basmati varieties, coupled with stability in international price trends has helped propel cultivation of paddy, as growers kept up plantation momentum from previous year.
Note that Pakistan exports over half of its domestically produced rice, but its profile has dramatically changed over the past decade. Until FY09, basmati varieties used to be the primary value contributor to rice exports, thanks to higher unit price that traded at a premium of 2.5 times over IRRI category. The latter varieties in turn contributed the bulk of export volume.
Over the following ten years, Pakistan lost its basmati advantage as the premium between average export unit prices of basmati and IRRI fell to as low as 1.68 times. The watershed moment came in FY16 when basmati rate in the international market fell below the $800 per ton psychological barrier, last seen in FY07.
Since then, basmati price in the international market are on a recovery trend that saw a brief touch and go moment with $1,200 per ton in May 2017. However, the opportunity was largely missed as during the intervening period Pakistan had lost much ground in the premium rice category to exporters from neighbouring India.
But fortunes finally begin to smile on Pakistan's basmati at the close of 2018 when EU regulations on fungicide acceptability levels in food products saw a revision. Background discussions indicate that basmati rice originating from India has higher tricylazole levels, a chemical spray heavily used on paddy crop to fight fungal pests. As a result, Indian exporters begin to find it hard to maintain market share, leaving open field for Pakistani exporters.
The explanation also appears to draw support from trade data sheet, which indicates 80 percent growth in basmati export volumes in 5MFY20. At the same time, average unit price fetched by rice exporters has fallen compared to same period last year, as differential between basmati and IRRI rates appears to have trimmed down.
Nevertheless, basmati's success may prove to be short-lived. Rice exporters note that Indian basmati enjoyed the added benefit of GI-tagging, short for geographical identification, which allowed use of basmati label by varieties grown in limited regions such as state of Haryana only. Indian regulatory efforts at market restriction allowed Haryana basmati to command additional premium, until the revised fungicide rules took effect in EU.
But it is only a matter of time before the Indian rice value chain ensures that rice growing practices comply with revised international regulations for chemical sprays. In the meanwhile, if Pakistan fails to make any efforts at developing a legislative framework for GI-tagging for its basmati, it may once again have to cede space to its perpetual frenemy in the basmati race as well.
Worried India balances West Asia options
Suleimani killing puts world on edge but does little for US long-term strategy
  • Published 6.01.20, 10:18 PM
  • Updated 6.01.20, 10:18 PM
Coffins of Gen. Qassim Suleimani and others who were killed in Iraq by a US drone strike during a funeral procession at the Enqelab-e-Eslami square in Tehran, Iran, on Monday. (AP)
“It’s hard to envision how this ends short of war,” is the grim comment from former US National Security Advisor, Susan Rice on the US assassination of Iran’s Major Gen Qassim Suleimani, commander of the Quds special forces and one of the most important political and military figures in the Middle East. Rice says retaliatory measures by Iran to the killing of its top-most general and US counter-retaliatory measures could spiral uncontrollably. “Americans would be wise to brace for war with Iran. Full-scale conflict is not a certainty, but the probability is higher than at any point in decades,” she adds ominously.
Initially, India, reacted cautiously to the crisis but has now been putting its foot in the waters to test the mood in the region. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, who served in Washington as India’s ambassador and is well known to American officialdom, was in Tehran on Sunday, holding talks with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif. Jaishankar has also made whistle-stop hops to Oman and the UAE and had talks by telephone with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Any conflict could have a devastating impact on the entire world and India would be quick to feel the pain, even if tensions only ratchet up a few notches. The Middle East has always been crucial geopolitically for India and that’s true now more than ever. It’s a temporary home for more than 8 million Indians. We get around 66 per cent of our oil from the region and Iraq is now our largest supplier, having overtaken Saudi Arabia last year.
Petrol prices have already gone up as a reaction to the Suleimani assassination, but HPCL chairman M. K. Surana says India doesn’t need to worry yet. “Unlike earlier when most of the oil used to come from the Middle East, today there are multiple choices available and it comes from the US, Russia and other places,” he says.
Iran is still reeling from the unexpected strike that killed Suleimani. His coffin was taken first to Ahvaz, a city near the Iran-Iraq border, then to Mashhad in northeastern Iran and finally to Tehran – even Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of the Iranian Revolution didn’t receive such multi-city rituals.
The huge mourning in Iran underlined how crucial a figure Suleimani had been. He had built a network of contacts that spread from Lebanon to Syria, Iraq and the furthest reaches of the Middle East and his goal was to build a Shia power bloc. He was the key backer of the powerful Shia militia Hezbollah which led a huge mourning procession in Beirut and was also said to have been the figure behind the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Soon after the drone strike on Suleimani, US President Donald Trump claimed the Iranian had been behind a terror attack in New Delhi. Trump didn’t offer details, but he seemed to be referring to the attempted car-bomb assassination of an Israeli diplomat in 2012.
At a strategic level, Suleimani was said to have been the man who went to Moscow and spread out maps to show how, with Russian assistance, Syrian President Bashir Assad could be kept in power. Maintaining Assad in power was a crucial goal for him and when he found the Syrian forces to be largely incompetent, he spent several months in the country personally directing the battle against Isis.
Suleimani and the Americans are said to have worked together to bring Isis to its knees. He’s also believed to have been behind the release of 12 American sailors who had been held by Iran after they strayed into the country’s territorial waters. The Iranians have pointed out that Suleiman was the military advisor to both Syria and Iraq and was there at their invitation to combat terrorist groups like Isis, Al Qaeda and the Al-Nusra Front.
For India there’s further cause for alarm. Iran and the US are two key players in Afghanistan along with our arch-rival Pakistan and also China. In that complex battleground, Iran and India have often found themselves on the same side, for instance, when they backed the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. India has also been given the greenlight by the US to proceed with the Chabahar port project that could reduce Afghanistan’s dependency on Pakistan for port access.
Significantly, the US called Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa to inform him about Suleimani’s killing before it got in touch with India. It also announced the resumption of military training for the Pakistan Army over the weekend. Any difficulty in the region, will inevitably result in the Americans being more dependent on Pakistan.
What happens next? Diplomatic efforts to cool tensions are in full swing. Meanwhile, the US is upping security at all its bases in the Middle East and so are its allies like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel. The Iranians always have an easy target in oil tankers passing through the Strait of Hormuz which is only 39km wide at its narrowest point.
Trump’s two predecessors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, had rejected carrying out any US attempt on Suleimani for fear of pitchforking the entire Middle East into conflict. While the US and Iran have been involved in a shadow war for years in the Middle East, it’s not clear what Trump hoped to achieve by ordering Suleimani’s assassination now. Alternatively, there’s the question of whether he ordered the killing to divert attention from the current presidential impeachment proceedings against him.
Certainly, Suleimani had blocked the US in scores of different ways. But by the assessment of many US observers, he was too big a player to be assassinated. The former US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, once summed up Suleimani’s importance, saying: “If ever there was somebody who needed killing, it would have been him -- the damage he has done to us and would likely do in the future. But does it fit into a long-term strategy?”
Who is manoomin?

A clash between culture and climate change
Danielle Johnson
“I kind of grew up with a lot of different tribal members,” said Melonee Montano, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Ojibwe. “ I used to have a tape recorder that I’d carry with me when I drove elders around to dialysis appointments or whatever, and I was kind of always just gathering that knowledge.”
Montano has now turned this passion for collecting knowledge into her job as the traditional ecological knowledge outreach specialist for the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission in Odanah, Wisconsin. Here, she interviews elders and others, especially those who hunt, fish, and gather, who have witnessed changes in the environment over time.
With climate change in action, though, Montano’s job of documenting traditional ecological knowledge, may be more important now than ever. Many environmental conditions, from temperature to sea level, have been changing over the years and will continue to do so in the future, according to climate change scientists. Wild rice, called manoomin in Ojibwe, meaning good berry, is a culturally-significant plant and food to the Ojibwe, but commission scientists say it is one of many species already beginning to struggle as a result of climate change. While tribal members and biologists may feel helpless in some areas, traditional ecological knowledge might be able to inform future decisions on manoomin maintenance in the wake of climate change and the many problems it brings.
The importance of manoomin to Lake Superior Ojibwe goes back to their migration story.
“It’s a plant that helped tell us through prophecies where we need to come because we needed to come to the place where food grows on water,” Montano says, “and that’s really where we settled ourselves after travelling and migrating.”
Manoomin is also one of the main foods in the traditional diet for the Ojibwe. It is present at all of their ceremonies, including naming ceremonies, funerals, and first kill feasts for young hunters when they kill their first animal. “It’s a huge part of our identities,” Montano notes.
The wild rice grown and harvested by the Ojibwe in the Great Lakes region is northern wild rice called zizania palustris, but North America also has southern wild rice identified as zizania aquatica and Texas wild rice, which is zizania texana, a rare and endangered species endemic to Texas.
According to Peter David, wildlife biologist at the commission, all 11 Ojibwe tribes grow manoomin, though it’s not necessarily evenly distributed. Manoomin grows mainly in the northern Great Lakes region, including northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as Canada. The ideal growing condition is 0.5–3 feet of water that naturally flows and fluctuates. Water clarity is also important because it allows sunlight penetration.
Tribes usually harvest manoomin from late August to early September, though David notes this year’s harvest went almost through the end of September. While the commission encourages natural reseeding by the plant itself, it does additional seeding by hand in the fall to mimic the natural seeding.
David is not a tribal citizen himself, but he has learned much from the tribes in working with commission for over 30 years, including knowledge in the form of traditional ecological knowledge.
“The four-year rule is that in four years, there’s one good, one lousy, and two medium years—but we’ve seen failure increasing,” he says, noting a higher number of bad years, likely as a result of several factors onset by climate change.

Northern wild rice is adapted to the climate in the northern United States, including the harsher winter, so as temperatures rise, it faces more competition from plants, both native and invasive, that have traditionally been kept away by the colder conditions. Increased storms, including severe wind, hail, rainfall, and flooding, also play a role.
“We’re having 100-year floods every three to four years,” said David, which certainly poses problems to the ideal water conditions of manoomin. “The Bad River rice beds are having a terrible year this year,” he said. Although Lake Superior, where the Kakagon Sloughs of Bad River reside, is relatively healthy, he says the lake is the highest he’s seen in 30 years and that they’ve started to see some algal blooms, which are rapid increases in algae populations as a result of nutrient-rich water conditions. These blooms can deplete oxygen levels, making it difficult for other plants and wildlife to survive.
Other pests and diseases are becoming more prominent as well. Brown spot disease is a fungal disease that destroys the seed bank of wild rice, and it’s increasing in prevalence with warmer, wetter conditions. Climate change is also believed to enhance the survival of rice worm pests that decrease seed production.
If the impacts of climate change weren’t bad enough, David also notes that the manoomin seeds, which are relatively heavy, don’t have much dispersal ability. Moving water can help transport seeds downstream, but they don’t have wings, so they usually fall in the water near the plant and have trouble moving upstream.
“Lots of historic rice beds have been lost,” he says. “There’s really no way of knowing how much, but I’d guess maybe 50 percent.” Counteracting this loss, however, is a struggle when the landscape and hydrology have been significantly altered and waterways damned. He says they could rebuild dikes for 500-year floods rather than 100, for example, but that can be cost-prohibitive.
“There’s not a lot of work on genetics of wild rice,” David says, perhaps contemplating it as an alternative. While some areas see it as “wild rice was a gift from the Creator and shouldn’t be messed with,” he thinks others may be willing to embrace genetic research as a result of the harsh impacts they’ve seen.
In the meantime, the commission and Montano’s work in traditional ecological knowledge may inform some action regarding manoomin. In addition to documenting TEK, sometimes dating back multiple generations or even centuries, her job is to bridge the gap between this knowledge and western science.
“We kind of look at what the scientists are gathering and what we’re hearing in the interviews, and we figure out where the connections are,” she said. “Especially when it comes from a vulnerability perspective, there’s a lot of ways that they match. So, for example, our interviews talk about wild rice being one of the most vulnerable beings when it comes to climate change, and that has been the case that has shown up in our scientific approach with the vulnerability studies too.”
The commission’s first Vulnerability Assessment categorizes manoomin as “highly to extremely vulnerable,” noting that of the 11 plants and animals studied, it was the “most vulnerable being/species in this assessment, and has already begun to respond to climate-related effects.”
Montano notes the importance of traditional ecological knowledge also as a connection to language, culture, and identity.
“We don’t just look at it from the ecological standpoint because as Anishinaabe people, our environment is directly connected to our culture, to our identities, to our way of being, treaty rights, all those kinds of things,” Montano says, “so we can’t really separate or put ecology in its own file. It doesn’t work from an Anishinaabe perspective.”
Along with this, she notes that regular science uses tools that “take the personhood out of it.” Whereas science would describe manoomin as a thing or a “what,” the Anishinaabe perspective considers it as a being or a “who.” Documenting and combining this perspective and knowledge with western science, like in the Vulnerability Assessment, is something the commission can then share with their member tribes.
“It can help tribes actually realize from all our collective knowledge maybe what they should be focusing on or putting energy in as far as climate change adaptation,” Montano says. “If we’re seeing consistently across the board that manoomin is one of the most sensitive ones, it can help them realize that maybe more efforts need to be put toward manoomin and the surrounding ecosystem.”
The commission is currently working on a second assessment on the vulnerability of more species, as well as a climate change adaptation plan that will include a cultural component and help further inform action regarding wild rice and other beings affected by climate change.
Doomed resolutions
Fatima S AttarwalaJanuary 06, 2020Facebook Count
RESOLUTIONS are a new year’s tradition, as is the tradition of failing to live up to them. From a macroeconomic perspective, increasing exports may very well be the policymakers’ new year resolution, but it is unlikely that the hackneyed old roads will bear fruit. An overemphasis on the capacity-strapped textile sector and topsy-turvy incentives are as big a lingering malaise as the cake in the fridge that prevents the achievement of the popular resolution of losing weight.

On the other hand, stepping away from incentivising the manufacturing sector, the services industry has a low hanging fruit in the form of information technology (IT) exports. Standing at $1 billion currently for formal exports, informally the sector earns about 1.5 times the formal sector, said Syed Ahmad, chairman of the Pakistan Software House Association.

“The Ministry of Commerce has acknowledged that growth will not be driven from the industrial sector that has been provided several big incentives in the past. Growth will stem from the services sector which is led by the IT industry,” he said.

Most of the small and medium enterprises (SME) in this sector are not registered since this increases the cost by seven per cent through payroll packages, special securities, the Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Institution, etc. If the incentive offered is greater than the cost, companies will naturally gravitate towards the formal sector, he explained.

While exports of goods receive cash rebates, exports of services do not even though this facility was approved by the last government for the IT sector but not implemented by the current one.

Textile, taking up the lion’s share of exports, is unlikely to be a catalyst for growth despite the room created by the US-China trade war that has urged big textile manufacturers to increase capacity

This view was agreed upon by Ehsan Malik, CEO of the Pakistan Business Council (PBC). “A low-hanging fruit that can become big over time is IT and IT-enabled services. Assume that I am a freelance software developer and I am given a piece of program to write that I sent out electronically. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) does not know I have exported the service, and the payment is made to a contact abroad who gives it to me through an informal channel. This means work done in Pakistan does not accrue benefits to the country,” he said.

Any exporter of a physical item is entitled to a rebate when he exports, i.e. a percentage of the sales value is given when sales are made abroad. But the service sector is not given this incentive; if the SBP is impartial to a $1 being earned on a good or a service, then incentives should be given to both of them, said Mr Malik.

While an incentive package can double exports, in its absence the sector would achieve its average growth rate of 30-35pc, he said.

On the agriculture side, Pakistan was headed towards a record rice crop, before Mother Nature stepped in. “We would have clocked in close to 7.8 million tonnes compared to 7.1-7.2m tonnes which was the previous record,” said Safdar Hussain Mehkri, a former chairman of the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan. However, the heatwave in the first half of September did a lot of damage to the yield, limiting the year-on-year increase to 5pc.

Keeping the production side aside, a source in the know lamented the subsidised rice from China which makes competition for non-Basmati rice very challenging; an issue Pakistan cannot take up with them due to the relations between the two countries.

Another big challenge on the demand side, for Basmati rice, is that we are selling our produce to the European Union market 40pc below its value. Pakistan’s Super Basmati rice exports to Europe range from 200,000-300,000 tonnes and are valued at $750 a tonne on average. In contrast, Europe buys Thai Jasmine fragrant brown rice, which is also a premium rice but inferior to our variety, at $1,100 a tonne.

We are selling a superior line at an underpriced rate because of lack of standards in the supply chain and poor ability to compete successfully. Provincial departments have not set standards such as those implemented in India, Thailand, and Vietnam where farmers are supposed to bring standardised produce to the mandis. As a result, tonnage is being increased but we are losing value.

Drying is an important aspect of standardising rice crop. “The government is so hungry for dollars that they don’t want to disturb anything. If 10 guys are drying rice but 90 are not, they are not incentivising the 10 in fear of offending the 90 who are bringing in the dollars,” the source said regretfully.

But some incentive has to be provided for those putting up the drying infrastructure. Those who are not drying would still be selling cheap but with government support, the ones who are drying could compete successfully in the premium markets. If the support came now, it would still take at least five years for it to yield benefits but at least the market would start shifting towards it, he added.

Textile, taking up the lion’s share of exports, is unlikely to be a catalyst for growth despite the room created by a trade war between the United States and China that has urged big textile manufacturers to increase capacity. While this may bring in dividends in the long run, an increase in exports in can only come from diversifying away from traditional industries.

Unfortunately, diversifying out from textiles to small and generally overlooked cottage industries such as surgical goods seems unlikely as well.

“The government has worsened the situation for us,” bemoaned Qaiser Mahmood, an exporter of surgical instruments. “According to the new rules, the payment has to come from the city to which we are exporting. The problem is that though we export to one country, the owner sits in some other country.”

Mr Mahmood explained that this rule had created a huge barrier for them. “I have already lost 6-7 customers. The previous government was managing affairs in a much better manner. I have customers in Egypt and Sudan who were routing from places such as Lebanon. They have now opted for vendors situated elsewhere.”

The retrospective nature of the incentives structure further discourages the expansion of non-traditional sectors with little exports. For example, exports of $100 worth of goods allow the exporter to keep $10 to reinvest in the overseas market. But if there is a brilliant product not exported before, there is no inflow of foreign exchange for its market development.

“Say you want to register a pharmaceutical product in an African country which can cost anywhere from $80,000 to $1 million. Without existing exports, where will you find the required amount since the SBP will not extend it to you? And this applies to any good,” explained PBC’s Mr Malik.

Furthermore, design capabilities are missing for smaller industries such as footwear and furniture. In sports good, the reason we are successful is that the know-how comes from elsewhere. If Adidas places an order for footballs, it also retains proprietary rights so their designs cannot be used for us to come up with our own product, Mr Malik added.

PBC’s back-of-the-envelope calculations in a do-nothing-new scenario where Pakistan and the rest of the world continue with the status quo estimate exports of $25bn by the end of this fiscal year, with an increase to $29bn by 2023. However, this will be accompanied by an increase in the trade deficit by $2bn in three years as growth in imports will be greater than the quantum of increase in exports.

Clearly, there is little joy to be had for a positive movement in exports in the new year.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, January 6th, 2020
Can Pakistan provide food security to the Middle East?
By BR Research on January 6, 2020
“We can provide food security to the Middle East," so said PM Khan last week at the groundbreaking ceremony of Air University campus in Islamabad. Can we really?
If the central bank's The State of Pakistan's Economy 3QFY19 report is any guide, Pakistan ranks eighth in wheat production, tenth in rice, fifth in sugarcane and fourth in milk production. But that doesn't necessarily mean we can provide food security to the Middle East.
In the simplest of terms, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines food security “to exist when all people, at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life".
In order to achieve this, it is obviously important to have sufficient quantity and acceptable quality of food, availability of resources to access food and a stable source of food accessibility, unaffected by sudden price changes and/or cyclicalevents. But it is equally important to have proper utilization of food combined with clean water, access to health care and proper sanitation to ensure nutritional well-being. In other words, food security is a far more holistic concept than people imagine. Pakistan's poor performance on each of these wider aspects of food security is rather well known.

A country need not produce all the food its people eat. But it has to have exportable surplus of food and non-food goods and services to be able to import food that it doesn't produce. This means food security is also affected by overall balance of payments.
According to the FAO's Food Insecurity Experience Scale ‘mild insecurity' refers to “worrying about the ability to obtain food", ‘moderate insecurity' means compromising on the quality of food or missing meals, while ‘severe insecurity' refers to being “hungry on a chronic basis".
In specific terms, 60 percent of Pakistan's population and about 37 percent households are food insecure according to The State of Pakistan's Economy 3QFY19 report by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), whereas about 20 percent of Pakistan's households are facing ‘severe insecurity'.
This has led to serious malnutrition. The World Food Programme's recently estimated that 15 percent of Pakistan's children below five years of age suffer from acute malnutrition, 32 percent are underweight and majority of the children under two years of age do not consume even half of their daily energy requirements. These statistics are quite alarming considering Pakistan has a growing youth bulge. If today's generation is malnourished, their contribution to the economy in future is questionable. Already according to The State of Pakistan's Economy 3QFY19 report by the SBP, malnutrition in Pakistan affects the economy by 3 percent of GDP annually.
So, can a country like this really provide food security to another country?Perhaps only after a decade or two of investments in agriculture, water, value chain, health care and all other ancillary affairs. PM Khan would do well not to signal lofty promises to the Middle East, when Pakistan is struggling with food security herself.

GM “golden” rice approved for consumption in the Philippines
This could be a major game changer for millions of people.
In the Philippines, a country of over 100 million people, almost half of the children are suffering from vitamin A deficiencies. This nutrient-rich golden rice has the potential to change all that.
Golden rice is engineered with genes that boost its beta-carotene content, a precursor of vitamin A. Image credits: International Rice Research Institute.
Genetically Modified (GM) foods (sometimes GMO) are still a highly controversial topic. The technology has the potential to revolutionize our food systems, but the public is overwhelmingly against it. However, studies have shown that, if the process is carried out properly, GMO’s offer little reason for concern.
Some places, however, are more receptive than others — and the Phillippines is a good example. GMO corn is already transforming farmers’ lives in the country, as the GMO strain is much more resistant to pests, which would often wreak havoc into plantations.
Now, another emblematic modified crop will enter the stage in Phillippines: rice.
According to a thorough national report, golden rice is just as safe for consumption as regular rice. This comes as no surprise, as several scientific reports had already reached the same conclusion.
“This is a victory for science, agriculture and all Filipinos,” member of congress Sharon Garin said in a statement.
The Philippines is one of several lower-income countries with widespread vitamin A deficiency — a dietary condition that affects the immune system and can cause a series of chronic conditions, including blindness. Every year, this deficiency kills over half a million children worldwide, largely because they don’t consume enough beta-carotene. This problem is particularly prevalent in countries where the local diet greatly relies on rice and features few other legumes.
Golden rice has the potential to make a huge impact here — a single portion carries more than half of the daily requirement, which can make all the difference in the world. But while the prototype was unveiled in 1999, few countries have approved it for mass consumption: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States — all high-income countries with low prevalence of vitamin A deficiency. This lack of wide-scale approval is largely owed to public controversy. Researchers hope that as more and more countries approve this type of crop, the baseless controversy will also be quenched.
The scientific evidence has long shown that golden rice (as well as other GMOs on the market) are safe to plant, process and eat — and more and more governments are starting to understand this. After the Philippines, Bangladesh (a country of 164 million people) is probably next in line.
However, people will have to wait a bit more before they can eat this golden rice. The crop has not yet received the green light for commercial propagation — which is necessary for farmers to plant it in the fields. The International Rice Research Institute, the Philippine-based organization developing the country’s golden rice, plans to submit its application for approval as soon as possible.

Scientists investigate the taxonomy and evolution of pipeworts

Read time: 4 mins
Rice, millets, bamboo, pineapple, bell reed and other economically essential and regularly consumed crops have a thing in common — taxonomically, they all belong to the order Poales of the plant kingdom. Although it has five groups, studies on the evolution of plants under Poales have mostly focused on the Graminids, which includes grasses like maize, wheat, and barley.
In a recent study, researchers from Pune's Agharkar Research Institute and Savitribai Phule University, and China's Zhejiang University have turned their attention towards Xyrids to gain a holistic understanding of the evolution of Poales. This group includes plants like yellow-eyed grass and pipeworts. The study, published in the journal PLOS One, was funded by the Agharkar Research Institute, the Zhejiang Provincial Natural Science Foundation, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.
The researchers collected leaf samples of Eriocaulon decemflorum, a type of pipewort, from Mt. Dayang in Zhejiang Province, China. While this species is endemic to China, almost one fourth of the species belonging to genus Eriocaulon are found in India, with many being endemic. The researchers studied the genetic sequence of E. decemflorum for the first time and compared it with representatives from the other groups under Poales—Graminids, Bromeliads, Restiids, and Cyprids.
"Many of the Eriocaulon species are known to possess medicinal properties. E. burgerianum is a known neuro-protectant and E. cinereum is known to possess some anti-cancer properties. Moreover, some species are used in the traditional medicinal systems of China to cure various ailments," says Dr Ritesh Choudhary, a researcher associated with Agharkar Research Institute and Savitribai Phule University, and an author of the study.

Eriocaulon decemflorum. Credits - Mr Difei Wu 
The researchers then studied the genetic material within a cell's cytoplasmic organelles, known as the plastome, and compared it with the genetic material from three other groups of Poales — Bromeliads, Graminids and Cyprids. These genomes haven't changed much during evolution and hence are ideal for genomic studies. They found two genes — ycf1 and ycf2 — in E. decemflorum that has been lost in Graminids and partially degraded in Bromeliads. These genes are necessary for the plant's survival as they produce crucial proteins. The fact that these two genes are lost sheds light on the evolution of plants belonging to the order Poales through comparison across the constituent groups instead of focusing on one.
While previous studies have looked at the plastomes in Eriocauloideae and Paepalanthoideae, which belong to subfamilies of Xyrids, no research till date has focused on the plastomes of the Eriocaulaceae family to study their genetic evolution and structural content of the plastomes.
"The relationship between Xyridaceae, Mayacaceae and Eriocaulaceae is still not well understood. With the inclusion of more plastome data, our understanding of the evolution of this group will be enhanced," says Ms. Ashwini Darshetkar, a Ph.D. student of ARI working on this project.
The study found that the accD gene, which is vital for photosynthesis and affects leaf development, was lost in Poales after the split between Eriocaulaceae and Xyridaceae. This finding corroborates the findings from another study from 2012. Scientists previously thought that the gene was lost in monocots either before the divergence of the orders Poales and Commelinales or after the split between Cyprids and Xyrids. A functional copy of accD gene was found in the plastome of pipeworts.
Photo credits - Mr Difei Wu

Further, the study looked into two introns—parts of DNA that do not code for any proteins. One such intron was rpoC1, which is necessary for the production of the enzyme RNA polymerase. The other was the introns of clpP, which is a protein-coding gene that assists in chloroplast development. It found that the E. decemflorum plastome contains these introns. In the evolutionary history within Poales, Bromeliads still have the introns and the Graminids have lost them. Functional benefits of presence or absence of these introns in the plastomes of Poales are yet to be explored.
The study results indicate a high degree of similarity between the plastomes of the Eriocaulon and the Bromeliad group. Previous studies on the evolution of the Xyrid group considered the family Eriocaulaceae as a sister of the Xyridaceae family, with little or no connection with the Mayacaceae family. However, the phylogenomic analyses in the present study posit the family Eriocaulaceae as the sister of the Mayacaceae family, a finding that has been supported by other recent studies.
Speaking about the next steps in the team's research, Dr. Choudhary emphasises the need to study the relationship with the Xyrids, specifically between Xyridaceae, Mayacaceae and Eriocaulaceae, to better understand the evolution within the Poales order. 

Type 2 diabetes warning: This popular ingredient may increase your risk

TYPE 2 diabetes is strongly tied to unhealthy lifestyle decisions so making poor choices can heighten your risk of developing the chronic condition. While some dietary decisions are patently risky, others present more hidden dangers, including a mealtime staple.

PUBLISHED: 07:05, Tue, Jan 7, 2020 | UPDATED: 08:02, Tue, Jan 7, 2020
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition in which a person’s pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. This impaired mechanism may not pose a threat initially, but overtime, unregulated blood sugar levels can hike your risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and stroke. It is therefore important to keep your risk of developing type 2 diabetes at bay and this means cutting back on or completely avoiding unhealthy lifestyle habits.


Certain dietary decisions have been seen to raise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by causing blood sugar levels to spike.
The worst offenders are foods that rank high on the glycemic index. The glycemic index is a value assigned to foods based on how slowly or how quickly those foods cause increases in blood sugar levels.
Foods with a high carbohydrate content pose the greatest threat to blood sugar management because carbohydrate is broken down into glucose relatively quickly and therefore has a more pronounced effect on blood sugar levels than either fat or protein, explains Diabetes.co.uk.
One particular high-carb food that has been shown to heighten your risk of developing type 2 diabetes is white rice.

Description: Regularly eating white rice is associated with an increased risk
Type 2 diabetes: Regularly eating white rice is associated with an increased risk (Image: Getty Images )
Research published in the journal BMJ suggested that eating white rice regularly - a common practice in Asian countries - may increase risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
To gather their findings, researchers looked at data from four studies: two in Asian countries (China and Japan) and two in Western countries (the U.S. and Australia). All participants were diabetes-free when the study began.
On average, people from Asian countries ate about four servings of white rice daily, whereas individuals in Western countries ate less than five servings a week.
After analysing the data, researchers found that diabetes risk rose by about 10 percent with each increased serving per day of white rice.

Accounting for the association, researcher Qi Sun, M, an instructor in medicine at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, suggests that, in addition to the high-carb content of white rice, the popular ingredient also has a low-fibre content and fibre intake has been shown to reduce your risk of developing the chronic disease.
According to Sun, other white, starchy carbohydrates, such as white bread, white pasta, and white potatoes, will also heighten your risk if eaten often enough.
While swapping white carbs for whole grain equivalents may reduce the risk, you do not have to shun rice completely, he said.

How can I increase my fibre intake?

According to Diabetes.co.uk, the surest way to add more fibre to your diet is to eat plenty of vegetables.

Type 2 diabetes: The surest way to increase your fibre intake is to eat plenty of fruit and veg (Image: Getty Images )
“The Department of Health advises us to eat at least five portions of vegetables and fruit each day. Generally speaking, beating rather than meeting the daily target is recommended,” advises the health body.
As the health site explains, if you’re buying starchy foods such as rice, bread or pasta, look for those with higher amounts of fibre per 100g.
“Foods listed as whole grain should usually be good picks but checking the nutritional value per 100g tends to be the most reliable way of ensuring you pick a high fibre option,” it added.
The NHS does advise exercising a degree of caution when upping your fibre intake, however, as it could lead to stomach cramps and bloating in the short term, so it is important to keep hydrated at the same time.

Type 2 diabetes: What are the common symptoms? (Image: Getty Images )

What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?

According to the NHS, many people have type 2 diabetes without realising because symptoms do not necessarily make you feel unwell.
Symptoms include:
·       Urinating more than usual, particularly at night
·       Feeling thirsty all the time
·       Feeling very tired
·       Losing weight without trying to
·       Itching around your penis or vagina, or repeatedly getting thrush
·       Cuts or wounds taking longer to heal
·       Blurred vision
You should speak to your GP if you have any of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes or you're worried you may have a higher risk of getting it, advises the health body.
It added: “The earlier diabetes is diagnosed and treatment started, the better. Early treatment reduces your risk of other health problems.”
Description: bowel cancer signs symptoms reduce risk painkiller aspirin

Bowel cancer: Taking this popular medication could help stave your risk of the disease

US strikes new challenge for India-Iran ties: Trade thrived during sanctions, but things may change now
Published: January 7, 2020 6:10:07 AM
Since India has stopped purchasing Iranian oil, which accounts for around 90% of its imports from the Islamic nation, since May 2019 to avoid US restrictions, the rupee-rial payment mechanism for exporters is inching closer to a collapse.
Description: US, India Iran ties, Trade, economy news, UCO Bank, India , Tehran , India, Iran, US, Saudi Arabia, US Iran, war
Uncertainties about payment to exporters, unless sorted quickly, will likely hit bilateral trade very hard.
By Banikinkar Pattanayak & Prabhudatta Mishra
While the US-Iran tensions have added to the broader global uncertainties about trade, data show Tehran tends to import more from India when it is hit hard by sanctions and reduces its reliance on the country when times are relatively good. But this time around, exporters fear the stakes are much higher if the US imposes fresh sanctions against Iran.
Since India has stopped purchasing Iranian oil, which accounts for around 90% of its imports from the Islamic nation, since May 2019 to avoid US restrictions, the rupee-rial payment mechanism for exporters is inching closer to a collapse. Indian firms have been getting payments for exports to Iran from the oil payments (meant for Tehran) held in rupee balances at UCO Bank after the sanctions against Iran were imposed by the Obama administration. Later in 2019, even IDBI Bank was allowed to have this facility. Two exporters told FE that the state-run banks have informally told them that the balance in these accounts will last only up to April 2020.
This problem wasn’t there up to the last fiscal because India had a goods trade deficit with Iran ($10 billion in FY19), thanks to massive oil imports, so our exporters didn’t face much problem in getting payments via rupee. Thanks to the halt to oil imports from Iran, India’s total imports from the Persian Gulf nation have collapsed 88% in the first eight months of this fiscal from a year before. Uncertainties about payment to exporters, unless sorted quickly, will likely hit bilateral trade very hard.
Description: https://images.financialexpress.com/2020/01/1-169.jpg
Compounding exporters’ worries, US President Donald Trump has threatened to impose fresh sanctions like never before if Iran retaliates against the killing of its top general last week in an American drone attack. “As of now, there is not much impact on our exports due to the tension. But if the tension flares up and the US slaps fresh sanctions against Iran, we have to be ready,” said Ajay Sahai, director general and chief executive at exporters’ body FIEO. If the US puts sanctions against supplies of farm items and medicine to Iran, which are now allowed on humanitarian grounds, India’s agriculture and pharma exports could get hit. Cereals, especially basmati, made up for about 40% of India’s exports to Iran last fiscal.
Mohit Singla, chairman of Trade Promotion Council of India, said, “India has been an old and reliable trading partner of Iran since ages and our diplomatic and trade relations are deep and above these pressing issues. As for the impact on trade, Iran imports all the essential commodities from India which will always be sustainable in terms of demand.”
Iran emerged as a very good destination for Indian basmati rice in 2012 and the very next year it became India’s top importer of the aromatic rice variety toppling Saudi Arabia. Last year, basmati rice export to Iran hit an all-time high as many new traders joined the business and had offered the shipments on credit. This resulted in some Rs 1,500 crore of payment default, which was taken up with the Iranian authority by India.
Around 2011-12, a rupee-rial mechanism was put in place where up to 45% of India’s purchases of Iranian crude could be effected in rupees in exchange for items like rice, wheat and medicines that were not sanctioned by the UN.
Do you know What is Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR), Finance Bill, Fiscal Policy in India, Expenditure Budget, Customs Duty? FE Knowledge Desk explains each of these and more in detail at Financial Express Explained. Also get Live BSE/NSE Stock Prices, latest NAV of Mutual FundsBest equity fundsTop GainersTop Losers on Financial Express. Don’t forget to try our free Income Tax Calculator tool.
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RICE TARIFFICATION:Birth pains force farmers' kids out of school

They're ditching farming as their children drop out of school.Will there still be Filipino rice farmers left in this new decade?
JANUARY 6, 2020
Published 5:05 PM, January 06, 2020
Updated 6:45 PM, January 06, 2020
NUEVA ECIJA, Philippines – The government’s economic team, as well as most experts, were one in saying that liberalizing rice imports is necessary to tame prices of the Filipino staple. Hiccups in the implementation of the rice tariffication law are simply “birth pains.”
Giving birth is an excruciating process, but it can kill too.
The government’s poverty reduction efforts and educational reforms, which had shown promising numbers, may suffer huge setbacks if the situation does not stabilize soon.
Rappler found that children of some farmers have dropped out of school, while their parents have moved to cities to look for work.
Out of school
Most farmers in Mayantoc, Nueva Ecija, are feeling the pinch of the much-lauded law. Children have started to drop out of school, as farmgate prices of palay have fallen below the production cost of P12.
With a heavy heart, Elvira Gutierrez and her husband Rogelio asked their firstborn to temporarily drop out of school until prices stabilize.
"'Yung panganay namin, hindi naman masyadong matalino, pero masipag. Sabi niya rin na tutulong na muna siya sa tatay niya, tumutulong na lang dito sa bahay, para makapag-aral pa rin 'yung bunso.... Masakit pero gano'n talaga," Gutierrez said with a smile.
(Our firstborn is not very smart, but very hardworking. He said he will help his father by doing the household chores so that his sister can remain in school.... It's painful but that's life.)
"Ang pangarap namin sa kanya makapagtapos.... Pangarap niya maging engineer. Ayaw na ayaw na namin maging gano'n siya (magsasaka) tulad ng papa niya kasi napakahirap," she added. ()
(We wish for him to finish school. He wants to be an engineer. We don't want him to become a farmer like his father because it's very hard.)
Ely Abella, principal of Mayantoc Elementary School, told Rappler that he fears other students may drop out soon as well.
"So far, minimal pa, pero dito kasi sa aming school 90% ng mga bata anak ng magsasaka. Bumaba ang enrollment namin, noong 2018 nasa 182 tapos naging 170 na lang," Abella said.
(So far, the impact is minimal. Around 90% of the kids here are children of farmers. Our enrollment rate went down from 182 in 2018 to 170 in 2019.)
Abella said the students who stopped going to school went to other towns where their fathers worked as farmers. There, they help out by getting rid of pests and doing other light tasks. He has yet to determine if the children have enrolled in other schools.
The government is aiming to keep children in school through the conditional cash transfer program. Latest data of the Department of Social Welfare and Development reveals that some 95% of children go to school at least 85% of the year.
The cash assistance is withdrawn once a child stops going to school. Gutierrez's family is a beneficiary of the program and may lose some much-needed assistance.
Safety net: Too many holes to patch up?
Lawmakers and government economists alike anticipated the negative impacts of lifting the quantitative restrictions of rice imports on farmers. To support them, the law provided safety nets through the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) worth P10 billion for better farm equipment and seeds. Farmers are also able to avail of the P1-billion credit facility of RCEF.
The P10 billion is sourced through the collected rice tariffs. So far, tariffs collected have reached P15 billion. The excess collection may be used by the government to support local farmers.
Moreover, the Department of Agriculture has allocated P1.5 billion through the Agricultural Credit Policy Council. Under the program, farmers are able to loan P15,000 payable in 8 years with no interest.

Rice tariffication does not include cash dole outs as it theoretically defeats the purpose of the law that allows the free market to dictate rice prices.Meanwhile, the National Food Authority (NFA) was given strict orders by President Rodrigo Duterte to aggressively buy palay directly from local farmers at a high price of P19 per kilo.
While these safeguards look good on paper, reality on the ground paints a different picture.
"Hindi naman namin alam 'yan na mga programa na sinabi mo, wala naman taga-NFA na pumunta dito," said Dominador Melchor, a farmer in Nueva Ecija. (We don't know any of the programs you just told me, no one from the NFA came.)
Moreover, rice cartels seemed to have continued their reign and forced local farmers to sell palay at breakeven or at a loss.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar previously told reporters that they already have a list of those practicing rice stock "management" and will talk to these groups.
When does rice management end and hoarding begin? The line has yet to be drawn.
As the government continues to work on saving the agriculture sector, farmers are opting out of it.
Elvira said that she and her husband are looking for jobs. She is already set to be a house help.
She may not be the only one doing so. Preliminary data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) shows that the percentage of those employed in the agriculture sector has declined, while those in services increased.
Farmers have every reason to leave farming. As of the last week of November 2019, farmgate palay prices sank to P15.55 per kilo, over 22% lower than prices from the same period a year ago.
Assuming that the production cost is at P12 per kilo, farmers just take home over P3 per kilo of palay sold. In some areas like the Zamboanga Peninsula and Western Visayas, farmgate prices go as low as P10 per kilo, lower than the assumed production cost.
Meanwhile, rice-producing regions like Central Luzon and Calabarzon reported prices as low as P11.
Prevailing prices in rice-producing provinces like Nueva Ecija and Tarlac stood at P19.35 and P15.60, respectively. Elvira said she has never heard of such prices in her locality.
While palay prices have significantly gone down, rice prices have also gone down – but still not as low as expected.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia previously told reporters that there would be no need for NFA rice anymore, since commercial rice would come in at the same rate of P27 per kilo.
Rice comprises the biggest chunk in computing for the country's inflation rate. With prices going down, the overall figure has sunk well within desirable range.
However, when 2019 prices are compared to 2017 rates, these are observed to have merely returned to previous rates. Rice tariffication promised much lower prices.
Local palay prices went down as the Philippines imported a whopping 3 million metric tons of rice, according to estimates of the United States Department of Agriculture-Foreign Agricultural Service.
PhilStar reported that this figure is 58% higher than imports in 2018 and is higher than China's rice requirements.
The Philippines only has a population of over 110 million, while China has around 1.4 billion.
Fertilizer prices also pinched farmers in 2019.
Abella, who also owns some two hectares of land and farms on top of being a school principal, said they are finding it harder to produce better yields due to rising fertilizer costs.
PSA data showed that urea, ammosul, and ammophos fertilizer prices have risen over 20 consecutive months. Complete fertilizer prices have recently gone down slightly, but registered the highest leap from levels a year ago.
What can be done?
Despite the negative impact of the law, experts are clear: reversing liberalization is far more complicated and dangerous.
Think tank Action for Economic Reform (AER) said in a previous statement that a backpedal would create uncertainty and further shake up the stability of palay prices.
"Rice traders who anticipate a reversal of the law are hoarding rice, depressing farmgate prices to the detriment of Filipino rice farmers. Halting implementation would only play into their hands. To counter this, strong signals must be sent as regards the certainty and consistency of this reform," AER said.
AER recommended that farmers be organized into cooperatives and associations to bond themselves and hopefully directly market their milled rice. Conditional cash transfers must also be implemented as various sectors and government agencies adjust to the new regime. (READ: Gov't should provide 'offsetting compensation' to farmers – PIDS study)
Meanwhile, University of the Philippines School of Economics professor Ramon Clarete recommended that the NFA continue to procure palay at a higher price. As the private sector adjusts to the law, Clarete said the government can temporarily create the market for local farmers.
He also echoed AER's recommendation of cash dole outs, but added that there must be strict monitoring of the disbursements to prevent abuse.
All these recommendations are already being made by the government. So far, not all farmers have been reached.
As we turn a new decade, will there still be Filipino rice farmers? Or is the pain of competing with cheap rice imports just too much to bear? – Rappler.com
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How a simple noche buena project evolved to help rice farmers in Nueva Ecija

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how a simple noche buena gift-giving project was able to take on a life of its own and evolve into this
Inday Echevarria
Published 6:30 PM, December 20, 2019
Updated 10:39 AM, December 21, 2019
GIVING BACK. The author, along with Team Pilipinas, leads a humble initiative to help farmers' families in Talavera, Nueva Ecija. All photos from Team Pilipinas
MANILA, Philippines – At the La Salle Greenhills chapel where my choir serves, the Mass always ends with this empowering reminder: be the spark. Be the pebble that creates ripples. Be the change you want to see.
I am part of Team Pilipinas, a group of volunteers espousing change, initiating projects that benefit underappreciated sectors such as fishermen, teachers, and now, rice farmers.
It was heart-wrenching for us to realize that the same farmers who made sure we had rice on our tables, could not afford to put rice on theirs. Clearly, this problem needed government intervention – but, surely, there was something we could do for their noche buena? (READ: A Filipino farmer's plea: 'Support us, love us')
100 families? Kaya ‘yan (It’s possible).
The original plan was very simple. I asked my choir, Mass Appeal, to sing for a small gathering I was planning for in November. Actress Pinky Marquez, who is part of my choir, readily agreed to sing and emcee. I then bumped into solo artist Reuben Laurente, and I shyly asked if he could sing for our affair. Without hesitation, he agreed.
When Yen Cabalu of Team Pilipinas voiced her "suntok sa buwan (shoot for the moon)" wish of having Arman Ferrer sing, I didn’t think it would be that easy to get his manager Noel Ferrer to say yes. It was also “suntok sa buwan” when I asked Jim Paredes and Boboy Garovillo to sing “Tuloy na Tuloy” – which, to me, embodied the spirit of focusing on Christ as the reason for Christmas. But to my surprise, they all agreed. Zero budget, 100% enthusiasm.
UP Manila Chancellor’s Committee for Culture and the Arts offered to help with the venue. Doc Melf Hernandez persuaded Chef Menoy Gimenez to feed us. Then, Mon Eugenio of Myron’s offered more food– lugaw unlike any you’ve ever tasted.
Last November 16, I invited friends to our party. Although only a handful came – with some blaming traffic as a major deterrent – many more sent their donations. At the end of the day, we happily announced that we had raised enough for a decent noche buena for 100 families.
Mission accomplished.
But wait. The Lord had bigger plans.
Beyond food
A Facebook chat with a farmer’s daughter, Jette, made me want to go beyond the spaghetti and fruit salad goal. In her very short wish list, she had suggested organic fertilizer and seeds. Then, apparently sensing that my intention was for noche buena, she added a bag of rice and a blanket. This idea immediately resonated with me: December this year was going to be particularly cold, and I could visualize those blankets providing a reassuring hug from us, every night, for years to come.
I honestly didn’t know, though, if I could raise the money. Team Pilipinas, at that time, was busy partnering with Vice President Leni Robredo’s efforts to assist the Cotabato earthquake victims, and I felt like I had already badgered all my friends for the noche buena project. Kaya pa ba (Is it still possible)?
I decided to broach the idea of purchasing blankets on my Facebook wall. I was surprised at how receptive people were– even Duterte Diehard Supporter friends responded to my appeal, momentarily setting aside political differences. Without me asking, friends started sharing my post on their walls. Friends of friends started sending me their pledges.
Friends researched blanket prices online, even volunteering to go to Divisoria if needed! Our mantra, though, was “buy local!" and this applied to both rice and blankets. The inabel blankets, which use a handwoven textile created by artisans in the northern provinces of the Philippines, that we were able to purchase with Dr. Arlene’s help were absolutely gorgeous!
I was euphoric: noche buena, and a warm blanket. Mission accomplished.
Lorelei Aquino, another colleague from Team Pilipinas, was tasked to coordinate with the town mayor of Talavera, Nueva Ecija for our turnover. Mayor Nerivi Martinez requested we increase the number of beneficiaries from 100 to 106 families– covering two from each of the 53 barangays.
While there, Lorelei chatted with some of the farmers, but the stories she heard left her totally drained and depressed. She called me up, crying. When she asked Mang Alberto, one of the farmers there who recently had a mild stroke and should be going to therapy, what he wanted for Christmas, he didn’t ask for food, blankets, or help with his health. The only thing he wanted was binhi (seeds). I ended up crying, as well. (READ: [OPINION] When a farmer asks for seeds instead of noche buena)
I was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. Didn't Jette say, from the start, that the farmers wanted seedlings and organic fertilizer? I blamed myself for not listening enough. I had to do something but how? My initial computation indicated I needed an amount I had no hope of raising, not in a short span of one week.
Again, I was proven wrong.
Two miracles happened.
The first was media attention. Both Rappler and the Inquirer carried my appeal, and my article was shared thousands of times. Suddenly, I had a mini army of complete strangers working with me.
A certain Angela Maree embarked on her own fundraising, and raised enough to pay for one sack of fertilizer for each of the 106 farmers’ families. Joahnna made a donation specifically for Mang Alberto’s medical bills. Lydia decided to forego gift-giving this Christmas and, instead, make donations in the names of her friends. Isa, who works with a popular rice brand, is currently arranging for a donation of high-quality seedlings from their company.
The second miracle was government intervention, both on the municipal and national level. Since this rice crisis only peaked during the second half of this year, many of the planned government measures were only implemented recently, and have not yet reached full coverage. I am not fully conversant on these measures, but as I understand it:
On the municipal level, government has started distributing free seedlings. As for the fertilizers, Talavera’s municipal agricultural officers were able to negotiate a huge discount on our purchases. The mayor and her staff wholeheartedly supported us in this endeavor, identifying the recipients, organizing the turnover, and adding their own gifts for distribution.
On the national level, government has announced a cash grant of P5,000 to be given to the farmers worst hit by the crisis. Nueva Ecija is one of the two provinces prioritized for this. They should receive the cash grants before Christmas.
We distributed one tricycle-load of Christmas goodies last December 14 to each of the 106 rice farmers in Talavera.
Finally, mission accomplished.
Understand that these farmers felt the full impact of the crisis. Many of them were old– probably in their 60s or even older. I had expected to see angry and bitter men. Yet, without exception, everyone I talked to was kind and grateful. A smile was etched on every face I saw that day. One woman even said I had reaffirmed her belief in God’s providence.
Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how a simple noche buena gift-giving project was able to take on a life of its own and evolve into this. It must be the Holy Spirit, silently working among us.
It seems the mission is not yet over. I want to go back soon. We want to bring doctors and dentists to Talavera and check up on the health of Mang Alberto and the other farmers.
Lorelei asked me if we could afford their medicines. I smiled.
Didn’t He say, “Ask, and ye shall receive?” – Rappler.com
Team Piipinas accepts donations: cash, medicines, hygiene kits, as well as services of volunteer doctors and dentists. You may email teamph.volunteers@gmail.com or call (0915) 3801977.
Inday Echevarria, 57, is an engineering graduate from UP, and a retired pianist. She believes that all Filipinos should be involved both in nation building and in fighting abuses. She is an active member of Team Pilipinas.

Venezuela remains one of Guyana’s biggest rice buyers, despite no PetroCaribe deal

The Guyana Rice Development Board, Cowan Street, Kingston, Georgetown.
Description: https://demerarawaves.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Grdb-300x225.jpgVenezuela is Guyana’s biggest rice market, accounting for 34 percent or 177,682  tonnest of all that grain exported to several Latin American countries the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB) said in a statement.This means that despite Venezuela stopping the rice for oil PetroCaribe agreement with Guyana in 2016, a number of private exporters are still selling rice to that neighbouring Spanish-speaking country.Latest figures show that Guyanese rice exporters earned US$227 million in exports to more than 35 countries last year. The GRDB says that figure represents a 20 percent increase in export earnings more than the US$186 million that were earned last year.
Coming second to Venezuela was Portugal which bought just over 60,000 tonnes or rice or 12 percent of all exports of the grain. Other main importers of Guyana’s rice were Cuba, Columbia, Honduras and Panama. 
Looking at the Caricom market, the GRDB said almost 69,956 tonnes of rice or 13 percent valued at US$35 million were exported in 2019.Of this figure, Jamaica imported 32,743 tonnes and Trinidad 25,417 tonnes. The GRDB says Guyana exported rice to ten CARICOM countries, namely; Antigua, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, St. Kitts, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. 
 As it relates to export by product, the GRDB says white rice was the largest export earner, accounting for 51 percent of the total amount of rice exported in 2019. That earned more than US $128 million. Other products exported were parboiled rice, cargo rice, paddy and bran. 
The GRDB says 214,190 tonnes of rice (41%) were shipped to the European Union in 2019, compared with 146,092 tonnes shipped in 2018, an increase of 47%. Main importing countries were Portugal, Italy, United Kingdom and Spain. 
The GRDB says Guyana produced more than one million tonnes of paddy for 2019, making it the second highest production year for rice in Guyana. 
With annual average yields increasing steadily and closing 2019 at almost 6 tonnes per hectare, production is expected to continue to increase in the coming year

China won’t hike grain import quotas for US trade deal: Report

Description: US President Donald Trump had said that China agreed to double pre-trade war purchases of US agricultural products over the next two years.US President Donald Trump had said that China agreed to double pre-trade war purchases of US agricultural products over the next two years.PHOTO: AFP
BEIJING (REUTERS) - China will not increase its annual low-tariff import quotas for corn, wheat and rice to accommodate stepped-up purchases of farm goods from the United States, local media group Caixin quoted senior agriculture official Han Jun as saying on Tuesday (Jan 7). 
The report raises further questions about how China will meet a target of spending billions of dollars more on US agricultural goods as the two countries look to reach an initial agreement to calm an extended trade war. 
US President Donald Trump said in December that China had agreed to double its pre-trade war purchases of US agricultural products over the next two years as part of a Phase 1 trade deal to be signed this month
Han, a vice agriculture minister and part of the negotiating team, said last month that China would buy more wheat, rice and corn from the United States to meet demands for higher agricultural imports.
His comments led to speculation that Beijing could increase the quotas that it issues each year to grain buyers, setting the amount of wheat, corn and rice that can be imported at a tariff rate of 1 per cent. 
The amounts for 2020 were issued in September last year and were steady on previous years.
Imports outside the quotas are rare because of tariffs of 65 per cent. 
Han was quoted by Caixin on Tuesday as saying the quota is offered to global markets and “we won’t adjust it for one country.”
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in December Beijing had committed to buy an additional US$32 billion of American agricultural products over two years, or roughly US$16 billion a year more than the 2017 baseline of US$24 billion. He said Beijing would aim for another US$5 billion in farm purchases each year on top of that.  
China’s annual quotas are 9.64 million tonnes for wheat, 7.2 million tonnes for corn and 5.32 million tonnes for rice. 
It has not bought large volumes of US wheat, corn and rice in recent years.
Soybeans made up more than half of China’s agriculture purchases from the United States in 2017, at about US$12.2 billion. 
The agriculture ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
International restaurant chain imports Indian and vegetarian fare to McKinney

Jan 6, 2020, 10:40 am
Description: Honest Indian restaurant
Behold vada prav, like sliders, with a fried potato dumpling inside a bun. Photo courtesy of Honest
Anew Indian and vegetarian restaurant has opened in McKinney that is part of an international chain. Called Honest Restaurant, it was founded in India in 1975, originally as a street-cart, serving Indian street foods.
The concept graduated to restaurant status, and there are now more than 50 locations across India, and, since 2016, 13 locations in the U.S., in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Illinois, and California.
The McKinney restaurant is on the boundary of Allen at 8910 SH 121, #220. It's the second location in Texas, following a location in Houston.
Honest prides itself on making its food from scratch daily. Dishes are cooked to order, and they use no frozen or processed products.
Their menu includes Indian and vegetarian with street foods, sandwiches, dosas, chaat, uttapam, and pav bhaji. They incorporate influences from western, southern, and northern India, including spicy Indo-Chinese dishes.
Specialties include a vegetable curry called bhaji pav, and a veggie rice dish called pulav – like pilaf. There are samosas; Indian-style pizzas with toppings on naan bread; and puri, a puffed rice dish.
There are South Indian dishes such as the crisp crepes filled with mashed potatoes and other vegetables, called dosas; and uttapams, like pancakes made from rice lentils, topped with onion, tomato, bell pepper, and green peas.
There are "thali" combination plates; dal – simmered lentils served with rice; and biryani, the comforting casserole-like rice dish.
There are also Indo-Chinese dishes including dumplings, fried rice, and noodles, which can be ordered spicy-hot.
They do a "baahubali" sandwich, like an Indian club, stacked with three layers and loaded with veggies such as baby corn, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, and bell peppers; and vada prav, which is like a slider, with a fried potato dumpling placed inside a bun.
They also do yummy specials such as dahi vada, which are like fritters, made from lentils, and topped with flavorful sauces and chutneys.
The McKinney restaurant opened in summer 2019. A spokesperson says that they plan to open more locations in DFW in 2020.

China Won't Hike Grain Import Quotas for U.S. Trade Deal-Caixin
By Reuters
·       Jan. 6, 2020BEIJING — China will not increase its annual low-tariff import quotas for corn, wheat and rice to accommodate stepped-up purchases of farm goods from the United States, local media group Caixin quoted senior agriculture official Han Jun as saying on Tuesday.
The report underlines China's desire to protect its domestic producers and raises further questions about how it will meet a target of spending billions of dollars more on U.S. agricultural goods as the two countries look to calm an extended trade war.
U.S. President Donald Trump said in December that China had agreed to double its pre-trade war purchases of U.S. agricultural products over the next two years as part of a Phase 1 trade deal to be signed this month.
Han, a vice agriculture minister and part of the negotiating team, said last month China would buy more U.S. wheat, rice and corn to meet demands for higher imports.
His comments led to speculation that Beijing could increase the quotas that it issues each year to grain buyers, setting the amount of wheat, corn and rice that can be imported at a tariff rate of 1%.
The amounts for 2020 were issued in September last year and were steady on previous years. Imports outside the quotas are rare because of tariffs of 65%.
Han was quoted by Caixin on Tuesday as saying the quota is offered to global markets and "we won't adjust it for one country."
"This is soothing market nerves here," said Meng Jinhui, a corn analyst with Shengda Futures. "I think the market is worried about a blow from the possible increase of grain imports, and that (message) has gone to the high leadership."
Increasing sales of meat, ethanol, distillers grains and soybeans are likely to be more important for reaching the U.S. target for doubling farm exports to China, Meng said.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in December Beijing had committed to buy an additional $32 billion of American agricultural products over two years, or roughly $16 billion a year more than the 2017 baseline of $24 billion.
China's annual quotas are 9.64 million tonnes for wheat, 7.2 million tonnes for corn and 5.32 million tonnes for rice, but large portions go unused each year as China relies on domestic production.
"This is about national food security, so it won't be opened up," said a Chinese wheat trader, who declined to be identified as he is not allowed to talk to media.
The quota system has been heavily criticised by the United States, which last year won a World Trade Organisation ruling that China violated its obligation to administer the quota on a fair basis.
China has not bought large volumes of U.S. wheat, corn and rice in recent years.
"Although there's certainly types of high-quality wheat that China would look to import, maxing out the tariff rate quota would also weigh on domestic producers," said Darin Friedrichs, senior Asia analyst at INTL FCStone, in a note late on Monday.
"China will be facing a tough balancing act of trying to satisfy the U.S. demands for large agriculture purchases, while also not hurting the rural population."
The agriculture ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Dominique Patton and Hallie Gu; Editing by Richard Pullin)

Liberia Agriculture Review 2019 - Reflecting Interventions By Government and Partners

6 JANUARY 2020

By Judoemue Kollie
Rice is the staple food of Liberia but the country is yet to increase the production of rice to meet domestic consumption in order to reduce importation.
President George M. Weah in his second annual message delivered to the 54th Legislature on Monday, January 28, 2019, described agriculture as critical to the transformation of the country and as such he promised his government's commitment to put more money into agriculture in order to revive the sector.
According to the President, because the sector accounts for more than 70 percent of household earnings, it is important to note that the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) can only be sustainably achieved through agriculture.
The 14 year civil war in Liberia completely destroyed the agricultural sector, leaving it with infrastructural deficits and the disruption of food production. Since the end of the civil crisis government and partners have made some significant efforts to improve the sector in order to reduce poverty in the lives of poor farmers and to stimulate economic growth.
Hence, this agriculture sector review 2019, highlights some interventions made by the government and partners as reported in the Daily Observer newspapers. It is a collection of data on allotment in the national budget for agriculture, introduction of policies and an attempt to improve agriculture value chains, such as rice, vegetable, cassava, cocoa and coffee, as well as to encourage youths to take advantage of agriculture for employment.
Budget for Agriculture
Although, the President has expressed commitment to prioritize agriculture during the year under review, it was discovered that the allotment made in the 2019/2020 National Budget for agriculture was far less than that of previous year. An amount of US$6,208,754 was allotted in the budget for agriculture which is 1.16 percent of the total budget.
On the other hand, the Government has attracted additional funding from the World Bank and the African Development Bank as loans to support agriculture. However, stakeholders in the sector on the contrary have said that the country cannot continue to depend on external sources to support agriculture.
They want the government to ensure that the budget for agriculture be in line with "Malabo Declaration for Food and Nutrition Security", which calls for 10% to be set aside annually for agriculture by every African government.
Mariatou Njie, Country Representative of FAO told stakeholders at the World Food Day Program that there is need for the Government to adhere to "Malabo Declaration for Food and Nutrition Security" to accelerate growth in the sector.
Meanwhile, President Weah has disclosed that the World Bank has expressed interest to further support agriculture.
The President, in fulfillment to his promise to prioritize agriculture, passed several laws, including the Act to Amend the Executive Law of Liberia to create a National Food and Feed Quality and Safety; the Financing Agreement Tree Crops Extension Project II (TCEP II) between Liberia and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); the Act to Establish the Liberia Fertilizer Regulatory Division and an Act to Establish Liberia Plant Pesticides Regulatory Services Bureau.
The President also issued Executive Order number 97, spending tariff on all agriculture produce and equipment for a period of one year.
Rebecca Kalayi, President of the National Agro-inputs Dealer Association of Liberia (NAIDAL) commended the President for the duty waver policy and expressed the hope that it would benefit the country. She however, called on the government to strictly monitor the implementation of the policy.
Rice Value Chain
Rice is the staple food of Liberia but the country is yet to increase the production of rice to meet domestic consumption in order to reduce importation. Statistics still show that Liberia spent US$200 million to import rice annually. Moreover, the country's rice sub-sector still faces many challenges.
Dr. Mongana Flomo, former Minister of Agriculture once told stakeholders that Liberia was expected to reduce rice imports by 7% last year through communal farming system. The plan by the former minister did not seem to materialize as he was relieved of his post and nothing is being reported about the outcomes on communal farming.
Partners and the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) assisted farmers in rice producing counties to scale up the level of production but challenges such as limited extension service, market constraint, and the provision of improved seed still remained as impediment.
Mohammed Kamara, President of the National Rice Federation of Liberia stressed the need for the government to subsidize the rice sector. He said that about US$ 8 million, which is currently used by government annually to subsidize rice import, could be used to support local production.
Vegetable Value Chain
Vegetables are profitable crops in Liberia but the majority of them are still being imported from neighboring countries. This is partly due to the lack of technologies for farmers to produce vegetables throughout the year.
To help scale up vegetable production, the FAO in 2019 disclosed plans to carry out an integrated farming project for vegetable and poultry farmers.
Also, the Government and the United Nations in June 27, 2019, launched a peace-building fund project in the country, aimed at enhancing incomes of vegetable farmers in Bong, and Lofa counties.
Cassava Value Chain
Cassava is the second most important staple for Liberians and, if supported by government, can help to eliminate hunger. But many cassava farmers lack the improved skills and technologies to enhance production.
The National Cassava Sector Coordinating Committee, which has the responsibility to coordinate the activities of cassava producers, is faced with financial constraint to support it members.
Joseph Morris, head of the cassava sector, told stakeholders at one of their meetings that plans are underway by his organization to attract funding from donors to support cassava farmers.

UAPB Scientists Investigate Eco-friendly Solution to Agricultural Waste

Will Hehemann School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

UAPB graduate students of agricultural regulations Aneesh Chandel, left, and Hen Sharma, right, test water samples to determine the efficiency of biochar in removing contaminants.
Researchers at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff are studying the potential of biochar – a charcoal made from biomass – to reduce the ecological risks associated with common agricultural waste. According to Dr. Hao Chen, assistant professor for the UAPB Department of Agriculture, the product is increasingly being used throughout the nation as a sustainable soil additive to improve crop yields.
“Agricultural waste, which includes animal manure as well as crop residues, can be a major nuisance for producers,” she said. “If farmers have rice husks or crop stems lying in their field, they commonly either let the plant residue sit or decide to burn it. Either practice releases a lot of greenhouse gasses into the environment.”
Dr. Chen said the conversion of agricultural waste to biochar could help producers deal with agricultural waste in a sustainable manner, minimizing the associated carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. Moreover, biochar can have a positive effect on soil and water quality in a number of other ways.
“Biochar may look like regular charcoal, but it actually captures agricultural chemicals from the local environment,” she said. “The value-added product is produced on a large scale in a few American factories, but it is also easy to make on small farms. For example, some small-scale producers use an oxygen-free tank or burn barrel to turn waste such as peanut hulls, walnut shells or sweet potato stems into biochar.”
Biochar can be added to soil through tilling. After application, the product absorbs pesticides and other chemical byproducts of agricultural production. Biochar improves water quality by ensuring nutrients and chemicals are not leached off the field and into the ground water or nearby bodies of water. It also increases soil health and fertility.
Dr. Chen said UAPB research on biochar is conducted in conjunction with the University of Florida. Current projects investigate biochar’s properties as a soil amendment and in relation to pollution absorption/degradation. Researchers are also studying the ability of biochar to sequester antibiotics in the environment.
“Antibiotics are commonly used in agricultural production and have become a huge problem in recent years,” she said. “They are released into the environment in animal manure or from reclaimed irrigation water and have a profoundly negative effect on microorganisms. Biochar applications help ensure antibiotics found in the soil are captured and contained inside the micropores of biochar. Since the micropores are not accessible to microorganisms, the bioavailability and environmental exposure of antibiotics will be largely reduced.”
Description: Biochar Lab Photo 1UAPB project data will be used to determine agricultural best management practices for the use of biochar on a large scale, Dr. Chen said. Eventually the product could be an affordable substitute for other waste treatment agents such as active carbon.
Dr. Chen said the research furthers UAPB’s land-grant mission by helping make a clean resource available to small producers, who will be able to improve crop yields. At the same time, they will be contributing to overall local environmental protection.
“Biochar as a value-added product is an innovative and increasingly popular way to make agricultural waste profitable and better ensure soil quality and food productivity in the long run,” she said.

House panel vows passage of bill to authorize use of 4Ps subsidy to purchase palay from farmers

Published January 6, 2020, 2:08 PM
By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The House Committee on Agriculture and Food vowed on Monday, January 6 to pursue the plenary passage of a bill seeking to authorize the use of the rice subsidy as provided for under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) in the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA) for the purchase of palay (unhusked rice) from farmers.
Description: The Joint Session of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao commences in the Plenary of the Batasang Pambansa on December 13, 2017. (ALVIN KASIBAN / MANILA BULLETIN)
Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga, chairman of the panel, said House Bill No. 5583, principally authored by Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, has been referred to the House Committee on Appropriations, chaired by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, for its deliberation and approval.
“We will still pursue for plenary approval upon approval of Committtee on Appropriations,” he said in a text message to the Manila Bulletin.
He noted that his panel approved the measure on December 11, 2019, and immediately referred it to the Ungab panel.
“Unfortunately, the Appropriations committee was busy at that time with the proposed national budget for 2020 and the bicameral conference,” Enverga said.
HB 5583 mandates the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), in coordination with the National Food Authority (NFA) and the Department of Agriculture (DA), to buy palay from local farmers, and distribute rice as subsidy, instead of cash assistance, to qualified beneficiaries.
Villafuerte, principal author of the bill, noted that under the 2019 General Appropriations Act, the allocation for rice subsidy amounts to P28.51 billion, and same amount has been allocated for 2020.
“In order to promote the welfare of farmers, this allocation should be used to buy rice from local farmers, which will be then distributed to poor families covered by the 4Ps. The government must do its best to help local farmers cope with the liberalization of rice importation,” he said.
The Enverga panel decided that only compliant beneficiaries of 4Ps will be entitled to the rice subsidy.
Under the CCT program, the beneficiaries receive a monthly subsidy amounting to P600 or equivalent to 20 kilos of rice, apart from the P300 cash assistance they receive per month.
HB 5583 provides that the beneficiaries of the conditional cash tranfer shall be entitled to rice subsidy, which shall be given in actual kilos of rice, instead of cash.
The bill tasks the DSWD, together with NFA and DA, to set the procedures and guidelines in the purchase of palay from farmers, and distribution of rice to the 4Ps beneficiaries.
The beneficiaries shall receive their rice subsidy from the DSWD-designated outlets, it said.
The Department of Finance (DOF) and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) shall be involved in the crafting of the implementing rules and regulations of the proposed Act.
Section 5 of the bill originally provides that the target areas shall be rice producing provinces of Pangasinan, Ilocos Norte, Cagayan. Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Zamboanga del Sur, and Iloilo.
But, the Enverga panel decided to scrap such provision, and decided that the proposed Act will cover all provinces which have very low prices of palay at a given time.
HB 5583 provides that a year-end report of the program implementation shall be submitted to the DSWD to both Houses of Congress to determine its performance and effectiveness.
Rice exports struggle to hit 8m tonnes
PUBLISHED : 6 JAN 2020 AT 04:31
Description: Officially known as Thai jasmine rice, hom mali is a high-quality rice that remains the flagship variety.Officially known as Thai jasmine rice, hom mali is a high-quality rice that remains the flagship variety.
Rice exports may fall below 8 million tonnes for 2019, with this year's prospects still uncertain because of a slew of risk factors such as the continued strong baht, natural disasters and emerging new rice exporters like Myanmar and China.
Charoen Laothamatas, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said shipments definitely will stand below 9 million tonnes, as projected by the association for 2019, but could struggle to hit 8 million tonnes.
In the first 11 months of 2019, Thailand shipped 7.11 million tonnes, a dip of 30.4% from the same period a year earlier, fetching US$2.90 billion, down 24.3%. The fall was attributed to the strong baht, hurting the country's export competitiveness.
Another factor is the lack of Thai rice variety development over a period of 30 years to cope with changing market demand and consumer behaviour. Thailand has shipped the same rice varieties for 30 years, Mr Charoen said.
"Thai rice quality has dropped because of climate change and global warming, as well as changing the plantation method," he said. "Because of the labour shortage, farmers opt to use machinery and chemicals that affect Thai rice's aromatic quality and good taste, while other exporters such as Vietnam have developed their own varieties every year to serve consumer demand. Vietnam now has seven or eight rice types for export to serve global demand."
Mr Charoen said Thai hom mali remains the flagship variety, while Thai white rice is no longer in a position to compete with Vietnam, which has successfully developed soft-textured rice that is exported worldwide.
For this year, the association is hesitant to come up with any export projections because of multiple risks.
In 2018, Thai rice shipments totalled 11.2 million tonnes, down 5% from 11.7 million in 2017 but higher than the 9.91 million tonnes in 2016. Normally rice exports average 10 million tonnes a year, with white rice making up half.
According to the Agricultural and Cooperatives Ministry, annual paddy production for both the main and second crops is forecast at 27-28 million tonnes in the 2019-20 season, weighed down by a drop in production for the second crop because of flooding and drought.
Paddy output from the second crop is estimated at just 3.5 million tonnes, down 54% from 7.75 million the previous season, due to drought and inadequate water supply from dams.
Production from the main crop is forecast at 24 million tonnes of paddy, down 4-12.5% from 25-27 million the previous season. In 2018, shipments totalled 11.2 million tonnes, down 5% from 11.7 million in 2017 but higher than the 9.91 million tonnes in 2016.



Flawed Anchor Borrowers’ scheme, RUGA, others marred agric sector in 2019

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy
06 January 2020   |   4:22 am

Description: https://guardian.ng/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/cattle-grazing-agric.jpg
Indications have emerged that lopsided implementation of the Anchor Borrowers’ scheme, the proposed RUGA settlement debacle, very epileptic power supply and appointment of the current minister of agriculture were some of the policies and actions that marred food production and agro-economic development of the country in 2019.
Head, Commercial Agriculture and Training, Lower Niger River Basin Authority, Ilorin, Kwara State, Dr Olabisis Awoniyi, while recalling happenings in 2019, said, “One of the flaws in agricultural policies last year was in the area of Anchor Borrowers’ programme of the Federal Government. Farmers did not have access to the funds as of when due. Farmlands were not prepared on time; maize and other grain farms were affected by Fall Armyworms before funds were available, among other difficulties.”
He explained that farmers were asked to look for resources to prepare land, buy farm inputs and be reimbursed later, saying, “As good as the programme may be, agriculture is time-bound, and this failure could reduce yield.”
The anchor borrowers’ programme, some other critics said, revolved around only rice and a few other grains, leaving other farmers out of the scheme.
A Lagos-based consultant and agro-product exporter, Mr John-Bede Antonio, said emphasis placed on rice production and its value chain prevented development of other sub-sectors of agriculture in Nigeria, saying total value chain development across various crops and regions is desirable for food security.
Mr Antonio said, “I have stopped eating rice. The emphasis on rice is overblown, irrelevant, irresponsible of the government, impractical and absolutely of no value.
“The moment this government leaves in 2023, the furor will die down because it is unsustainable.”
He argued that other cash crops which were mainstays of the country’s economy in the past have been neglected despite a promise of a robust agro-economic policy tagged The Green Alternative.
He called on the government to extend input and financial support to cocoa, palm oil, coconuts and cashew production because they are real industrial produce that could revolutionise the economy if industrialised, processed and consumed in the country and exported to other African countries the continental free trade agreement.
Other critics of the policy said resources for the scheme have been concentrated in the north, with a very few farmers benefitting in the scheme in the south-east, south-south and the south-west.
A commercial rice farmer and processor in Iwo, Osun State, Mr Ayoade Popoola, said despite several efforts to secure loans and inputs through the borrowers’ scheme, he and many other farmers could not get any support in 2019.
From the angle of agro-chemical and agro-machinery, Dr Akin Oloniruha, a former provost of the Ahmadu Bello University College of Agriculture, Kabba, Kogi State, said importation of agro-machinery and chemicals is on the rise, making the country to lose what it gains through the closure of borders.
He emphasised that “We are still importing all our machinery and equipment, thus while import of rice has dropped, that of machinery, equipment and agrochemicals has correspondingly gone up.”
He suggested that the “Government will do well to create incentives for local assembly plants for machinery and production plants for agrochemicals to reduce their prices and create more jobs.”
RUGA settlement initiative as divisive policy, farm invasion
The Federal Government hinged its argument for the RUGA settlement policy on the point that over 95 per cent of the 20 million cattle population in Nigeria is managed under the traditional pastoral system which relies predominantly on mobility in search of pasture and water from natural range resources and crop residues, saying full potential of cattle raised under this system of production are limited in both production and per animal productivity due to poor feeding and watering occasioned by long dry season.
So, the policy stipulated that fatal clashes arising between farmers and herders were results of open grazing, therefore, “the need to come up with innovative and integrated approach that would provide housing infrastructure and security incentives to enhance settlement of pastoralists and increase productivity of livestock.”
“One of such innovations,” the government policy explains, “is the ‘Ruga’ settlement model comprising 40 units of huts for 10 pastoral families on a minimum 20ha land with the following facilities: solar powered borehole, water harvesting infrastructure, sanitary facility, mini ruminant feed mills, dispensary, watch tower security posts and access road.”
The government claimed that the Ruga settlement model would be spread across 12 states, most of which had persistently experienced farmer-herder clashes. The states were Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara states.
The public criticisms that trailed the announcement of the policy nearly burst the country, and since the suspension, the government policy in the sector has had no clear direction.
Similar to the above were the proposed Radio Fulani and alleged N100 billion grant to cattle breeders, which Nigerians rejected and described as sectionalist, ethnic-centric and divisive in a multi-ethnic country.
Appointment of Muhammed Nanono as minister of agriculture climaxed the directionless agricultural policies. Many Nigerians have described the minister as too old, and having no adequate knowledge of what to do in the sector.
Rural underdevelopment
A former minister, Chief Audu Ogbeh, once told The Guardian that he was only saddled with the affairs relating to agriculture, not rural development because he was not equipped for such.
Rural and food-producing communities have suffered massive infrastructural shortages and dilapidation since the return of democratically elected government in 1999. Audu Ogbeh said this was unconnected with crippling of the local government administration by state governments with the appointment of care taker committees and operation of joint accounts that kept the local government councils stranded financially.
Grading, reconstruction and construction of farm roads and other infrastructure within the jurisdiction of the local authorities have been hampered, and President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration could not effect an immediate shift in 2019.
Storage facilities of the Federal Government were also leased out to private investors, making such unavailable for grain farmers’ use.
Poor road networks, according to Dr John Okechukwu, a cassava value chain specialist at IITA and Dr Francis Nwilene, Regional Coordinator of Africa Rice Centre, escalated post-harvest losses in 2019, and marginally increased the cost of food items on getting to the final consumer on accounts of higher cost of transportation.
Moving crops, either processed or raw, from where they were produced in rural areas was costly, difficult and time-consuming, they said, and this affected wholesomeness of foods, profitability to farmers, prices and availability in 2019.
Oloniruha, on his part, said “the rural feeder roads to farms remain deplorable as ever,” suggesting that “states and local government councils should begin to live up to their responsibilities so that farm produce can be evacuated to marketplaces with little stress.”
He also said “the menace of herdsmen on arable farms has remained intractable so much so that some farmers had to abandon their farmlands. But with some creativity and innovation, the government can solve this problem. Several farmlands were flooded last year with farmers incurring huge losses and the government is under intense pressure to come to farmers’ assistance.”
Oloniruha said on the loss of crops to flooding and herdsmen, the Nigerian Agricultural Insurance Corporation (NAIC) should step up its presence, activities, advocacy and enlightenment to farmers so that they would imbibe the culture of insuring their farms.
“In the livestock section, due to increased demand for day-old-chicks by farmers, the few hatcheries cannot cope. Farmers have to make booking for six months in some cases before they can procure day-old-chicks.
“Setting up hatcheries is expensive. Some state governments can take this up as it is also lucrative.
“By and by, I think the borders should remain closed until we can devise an ingenious way to effectively and efficiently policing our borders.”
The flipside of the flaws
However, policies adjudged to be good by many Nigerians are closure of some land borders, the Anchor Borrowers’ scheme in various crops and emphasis on local production of rice and poultry products.
Dr Awoniyi said, “Border closure is a step in the right direction, and farmers should be encouraged more to produce. Inputs such as seeds should be distributed to farmers to prevent mixture of varieties as many of the locally processed brands of rice in the country were mixture of different varieties, which affects processing and cooking time.”
The government should consider input subsidy that would make inputs get directly to farmers, he suggested, as was done during the administration of a former minister of agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adeshina. He also suggested more of public-private-partnership in all areas of agriculture.
“Farm produce should be bought off the local farmers to prevent glut and youths should be involved in farming through the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) farms in all local government areas,” he added.
Despite kicks from certain critics on the scheme, Dr Oloniruha commented that “The Anchor Borrowers’ programme for farmers recorded great success last year,” adding that “Farmers were also able to obtain fertiliser in good time.”
Oloniruha argued that closure of the borders encouraged more production of rice and poultry production, saying, “But processing facilities (for rice) are still limited and expensive. One will like to see more processing facilities installed this year.”

EU rice tariffs hurt Cambodia’s farmers

Dealers use EU tariffs to squeeze Cambodian farmers. The episode holds warnings for 2020 as EBA protections remain under threat.
Last January, the European Union (EU) introduced tariffs on Cambodia and Myanmar’s rice imports to protect rice producers within the bloc.
Buyers are using the tariffs and the reduced demand for rice in Europe to pay Cambodia’s rice farmers below market value for their harvest.

Rice farmers are feeling the pinch

Following the tariff introductions, rice exports from the Kingdom to the EU fell by 30% in 2019. Buyers are using falling exports as an excuse to drive rice prices down.
Choeun Socheat, a rice farmer in Cambodia’s Battambang province, told VOA that rice prices are down to US$232 per ton, US$60 less than the previous year’s rate. “The dealers told us that the price is low because they are buying rice to keep at the rice mills, but not for exporting abroad.”

The numbers tell a different story

While EU rice imports are down, many of the losses have been offset by increased Chinese purchases.
This year, China pledged to increase the quantity of rice bought from Cambodian farmers. In 2018, Beijing agreed to import 300,000 tons of Cambodian rice. In 2019, it increased this figure to 400,000.
As a result, despite decreasing demand in Europe, Cambodia’s export volume endured in 2019. The Kingdom sold 620,106 tons of rice last year, a drop of barely 1% on 2018’s tally. Around 40% of the country’s rice went to the Chinese market. The total value of the Kingdom’s exports fell by 4.3% to US$501 million.
“We have to sell with the price dealers set,” Socheat said. But export figures indicate that Cambodian farmers are being manipulated by dealers looking to capitalise on their limited access to market information.

The government’s response reveals a lack of empathy

Cambodia’s rice farmers face an increasingly uncertain future. In addition to being at the mercy of predatory dealers, rising pesticide and fertilizer prices mean they need to make even more money to break even.
One farmer from Omal commune in Battambang estimated that he needed to fetch US$267 per ton to recover fertilizer costs.
Extreme weather patterns are deepening reliance on these expensive chemicals. Droughts, particularly in the country’s north, have left around 32% of farmers without access to water or irrigation facilities.
In December 2019, around 45,000 hectares of rice-growing paddies were affected by severe droughts. The government was able to provide assistance to farmers managing around 20,000 hectares; less than half of those that needed it.
A farmer in Pursat province described how he needed to invest an additional US$500 in equipment to pump water from a nearby irrigation canal to his 16-acre rice paddy. These increased overhead costs reduce farmers’ abilities to absorb the costs of a low yield.
To maximise output and avoid a reduced harvest, farmers are increasingly turning to pesticides and fertilizers. Between 2006 and 2016, fertilizer consumption more than doubled across the Kingdom.

DA sees record local rice production

Updated January 6, 2020, 10:46 AM
The Philippines is expected to keep its status as the world’s top rice importer even as rice production is seen hitting record level this year after reaching its three-year low in 2019.
Agriculture Assistant Secretary for Operations Andrew Villacorta said that for 2020, local rice production is seen rising to a record 19.6 million metric tons (MT), which is around 7 percent higher from the 18.4 million MT forecast for 2019.
This, he said, will be backed by the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), the tariff collected from imported rice.
As part of the Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law, RCEF is supposed to be injected with ₱10 billion annually from 2019 to 2024 or a period of six years.
So far, RCEF has already bankrolled the distribution of inbred rice seeds across 46 provinces.
“The seed component of RCEF will already have an impact [in local rice production] this year. All the ₱3 billion allotted for seed program will be completely used. We will be able to distribute seeds for two planting seasons,” Villacorta said.
The mechanization component of RCEF, which has a budget of ₱5 billion, will also start this year.
Albeit still unofficial, an output of 18.4 million MT of locally produced rice for 2019 will be the country’s lowest output since 2016.
Data from Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that from 2015 to 2018, palay production in the country was highest in 2017 at 19.28 million MT and lowest in 2016 at 17.63 million MT.
In 2018, palay production settled at 19.07 million MT due to several typhoons and El NiƱo.
“Our original target for 2019 was 19 million MT but because of typhoons, we are now forecasting just 18.4 million MT,” Villacorta said.

Liberia Agriculture Review 2019: Reflecting Interventions by Government and Partners

Description: https://i0.wp.com/www.liberianobserver.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Women-farmers.jpg?resize=696%2C565&ssl=1Rice is the staple food of Liberia but the country is yet to increase the production of rice to meet domestic consumption in order to reduce importation.
President George M. Weah in his second annual message delivered to the 54th Legislature on Monday, January 28, 2019, described agriculture as critical to the transformation of the country and as such he promised his government’s commitment to put more money into agriculture in order to revive the sector.
According to the President, because the sector accounts for more than 70 percent of household earnings, it is important to note that the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) can only be sustainably achieved through agriculture.
The 14 year civil war in Liberia completely destroyed the agricultural sector, leaving it with infrastructural deficits and the disruption of food production. Since the end of the civil crisis government and partners have made some significant efforts to improve the sector in order to reduce poverty in the lives of poor farmers and to stimulate economic growth.
Hence, this agriculture sector review 2019, highlights some interventions made by the government and partners as reported in the Daily Observer newspapers. It is a collection of data on allotment in the national budget for agriculture, introduction of policies and an attempt to improve agriculture value chains, such as rice, vegetable, cassava, cocoa and coffee, as well as to encourage youths to take advantage of agriculture for employment.
Budget for Agriculture
Although, the President has expressed commitment to prioritize agriculture during the year under review, it was discovered that the allotment made in the 2019/2020 National Budget for agriculture was far less than that of previous year. An amount of US$6,208,754 was allotted in the budget for agriculture which is 1.16 percent of the total budget.
On the other hand, the Government has attracted additional funding from the World Bank and the African Development Bank as loans to support agriculture. However, stakeholders in the sector on the contrary have said that the country cannot continue to depend on external sources to support agriculture.
They want the government to ensure that the budget for agriculture be in line with “Malabo Declaration for Food and Nutrition Security”, which calls for 10% to be set aside annually for agriculture by every African government.
Mariatou Njie, Country Representative of FAO told stakeholders at the World Food Day Program that there is need for the Government to adhere to “Malabo Declaration for Food and Nutrition Security” to accelerate growth in the sector.
Meanwhile, President Weah has disclosed that the World Bank has expressed interest to further support agriculture.