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Surviving the Philippine Rice Crisis

“Here, no one has ever died from hunger but a lot had from overeating.”

In a casual conversation, those were the words of China's then Premier Deng Xiaoping to a visiting foreign official. It may be have been hard to believe at that time. China was known as a poor country and a lot people there seemed hungry. It was a long way from the present rice exporter. Then, it was clearing entire forests and converting it to rice lands. And yet, nobody ever died from hunger.

In the Philippines, I once asked a group of medical professionals if they've seen anybody die from hunger. They paused for a moment, looked at each other and said, “No, none at all”. Whatever the ending will be of this country’s rice situation, a hunger related death will not be a part of it. On the contrary, the incidence of hypertension, diabetes and other diseases related to improper diet will continue to become major contributors in the mortality rate of this country.

I agree with the government when it said that there is no rice crisis. Not yet. At this point, all the commercial stores are still well stocked and the National Food Authority (NFA) is still able to supply all its shelves. There may be instances when some store’s daily supplies ran out early. But still, it is refilled within reasonable periods.

Traditional Philippine Rice VarietiesWhat prompted this issue to explode are mainly consumer panic and speculative demand. Everything was quiet until some sectors came out and called everyone's attention to two government memos alerting the president that some of the country's rice suppliers like China and Vietnam are experiencing low harvests due to crop infestations and will probably be forced to reduce its export commitments to our country. After that news broke out, prices went up and the state of near panic that we have now ensued. To make matters worse, the practice of hoarding seem to have intensified and should the government fail to control this, an artificial rice shortage will occur and the consequences will be dire.

The law of supply and demand states that price goes up or down in accordance to movements in supply and demand. As demand increases, and supply levels remain constant, the price goes up. With the state of near panic that is present in the economy, it is but normal for the prices to go up.

Some people are now buying more than their daily requirements, fearing that the next day's prices will be higher. Unethical businessmen, on the other hand, are trying to profit from the situation by hoarding stocks while waiting for the prices to go up. Such a situation is resulting to a higher demand and unusually low supply levels. There can be no other explanation, other than that.

The stores are still selling, the government warehouses still have inventories to supply the people for 57 days, rice harvests are ongoing and imports are on its way. Should there by any real shortage this year, it will start during the end months when the economy has exhausted its local produce and supply of imported rice. Definitely, no shortage will happen this summer and prices should remain stable. Any increase in price that occurs earlier than October will be artificial. If the price of rice goes up uncontrollably before there’s real shortage, this country should have attained a state referred to in economics as “Private failure” and following a textbook solution, it will be up for the government to intervene. That's what they are here for.

This article will stop short of discussing the country's popular solutions to the rice crisis and instead talk about the least discussed- Rice & Chopsticksminimizing rice consumption. In this planet, half of the population do not eat rice and yet, survive and even lives happily. In fact, the non-rice eaters seem to be healthier. While not intending to become controversial, I dare say that Filipinos can live without rice. For us, rice comes with cultural and psychological importance that far outweighs its nutritional benefits. Because of that, it will take some adjustments, but it is very possible. I, myself, have experienced not eating rice during the first stage of my Atkins diet. I became irritable for a couple of days but after that, I felt good. I lost all excess weight and actually became very healthy. Serious Gym buffs do not eat rice. My neighbor, who once held the Mr. Philippines title, eats sweet potato (Kamote) for more than half a year prior to competition and he never feels week at all. In fact, no street toughie ever dreams of messing with him whenever he is on a potato diet. Another example is a friend's dad who hails from Batanes. Due to the constant typhoons, they cultivate “Kamote” more than rice for it grows under the ground and doesn't get damaged by strong winds and rain. His dad told him, that people in his area only eats rice when they have ran out of sweet potato.

Should rice become scarcer, I will start by reducing my share in the daily consumption. Eventually, I will change to other sources of carbohydrates. A rice shortage should not be a source of fear for as long as food in general is in relative abundance. I will survive without rice, so will all of you.

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