It seems that worrying about your next job isn’t just limited to private sector employees anymore. Once Executive Order 366 (E.O. 366) or the Rationalization Plan of the government is implemented around 420,000 government employees, or 30 percent of the workforce in the bureaucracy, will be laid off. The executive order was issued in October 2004 to effect the reorganization and rationalization of the functions of government institutions.
Recently, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) approved the Rat Plan of the National Food Authority (NFA) aimed to restructure, streamline, and privatize critical and strategic functions of the agency such as the supply of rice. This order has profound implications not only for the government employees set to lose their jobs but also for the country’s food security.
The NFA Rat Plan includes the layoff of 800 employees of the National Food Authority (NFA) upon the abolition of six important departments of the food agency. These employees comprise more than 40 percent of the 1,957 plantilla positions occupied by regular permanent rank-and-file workers in the NFA.
We are also set to lose our own scientists and engineers in the grains and food industry as the technical and extension departments of the agency are to be abolished. These departments are those tasked to provide assistance to farmers for efficient postproduction work and the processing and marketing of their products, to formulate industrial policy and to conduct research and development in post-harvest technology.
The engineers, researchers, and technologists in two of the affected NFA departments were acknowledged under the Magna Carta for Science and Technology in recognition of their crucial role in grains and food industry development. The significant reduction of the technical personnel would weaken the NFA’s capacity to improve on grains post-harvest technology needed to stabilize our rice supply.
Within less than a year of the rice crisis, government’s response is to downscale the very agency mandated to ensure the development of our domestic grains industry. In 1972, the National Grains Authority (NGA) was created under Presidential Decree No. 4 (PD 4) and was reconstituted as the National Food Authority (NFA) in 1981 under
PD1770. It was mandated to promote the integrated growth and development of the grains industry with the main goal of providing an adequate and continuous food supply.
With the Rat Plan of the NFA and the impending privatization of the agency, the supply and price of our staple food will be left to the mercy of unscrupulous rice traders and businessmen. In the 1995 and 2008 rice crises, the public witnessed the unreliability of the private sector in ensuring the supply of rice as long lines developed and prices skyrocketed. The recent rice crisis happened as a result of the country’s continued dependence on imports to offset domestic rice production deficits.
The NFA Rat Plan contravenes many important provisions of the NFA Charter and substantially alters NFA’s policy goals and objectives. Furthermore, the “financial losses or hemorrhaging” of NFA that the plan seeks to address can be attributed to the cost of rice importation and some programs and projects that are being undertaken by the agency without any corresponding budget. If the plan is implemented, the agency would save only a mere 2.3 percent on its administrative expense.
Yet with the privatization of the NFA and its impending Rationalization plan, we would worsen the situation not only in adding more to the rising number of the unemployed, but also in weakening our capacity to strengthen our domestic rice supply. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) warns of rice price volatility and an impending rice crisis sometime this year. The IRRI prognosis comes in the light of financial crisis worldwide and the global rise in the demand of the rice.
Agriculture’s share in our gross domestic product has been shrinking for the past few decades. From a post-war high of 35 percent, it has shrunk down to around 15 percent in recent years. With falling food production per capita, we face rising agricultural trade deficits since we are now importing our staple food from other countries. One answer to the global economic crisis is to strengthen our own domestic production to provide buffer for our people. We should be developing our agricultural base instead of relying more and more to imports for our food.
Instead of terminating these employees, the more rational course of action is to strengthen the capability of the agency to increase domestic rice production. Instead of relying more on imports of rice that could cost us more, the more rational plan would be to address the productive forces in agriculture: modernize agricultural tools, provide access to land for tillers and give genuine and adequate support to our farmers to make them really productive and our agriculture sustainable.
[Ms. Finesa Cosico is an entomologist and a member of AGHAM.]