EDITORIAL — Too many mouths to feed

The Philippines’ rice production is up, according to agriculture officials as they allayed fears of a rice shortage in the country. But just to make sure no one will suffer from a shortage of the country’s staple, the government is importing rice from countries including the United States.

If we have enough rice, why are rice prices soaring, and why are we importing the staple, including varieties that are sold by the National Food Authority at subsidized prices? This phenomenon must be similar to those rosy economy figures, whose benefits have failed to trickle down to the grassroots even after seven years of sustained growth.

Part of the explanation, as pointed out by experts who are now tracking a growing global food crisis, is that food production cannot keep up with population growth. Among the biggest consumers of rice are developing countries including the Philippines, where economic growth and finite resources cannot keep up with the pace of population growth. There are simply too many mouths to feed.

At the recent two-day Philippine Development Forum held in Pampanga, representatives of the international donor community told Philippine officials about the need to curb population growth to boost development. They received a chuckle from Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, who reportedly told the donors that his hands were tied on a matter that his boss the President felt strongly about.

Feeling strongly means doing nothing that might even give a hint to couples that they can plan the size of their families, lest the couples get ideas about trying contraception. Duque had earlier said family planning was low in the priorities of his department. Previous administrations had promoted varying degrees of family planning programs, with the Ramos administration the most aggressive, distributing condoms not just for contraception but also for safe sex as part of a campaign against AIDS. President Arroyo, beholden to the Roman Catholic Church for political support, has chosen to abandon even an information campaign on family planning. The consequences of that neglect will be felt for years to come.

The Philippine Star


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