The day after

I wrote too soon.  When I wrote my Monday article on Sunday morning, relieved that Metro Manila did not seem to have suffered much damage, and based on initial reports from broadcast media, I concluded that the damage to standing palay crops was not as extensive as in previous typhoons.

Now the Department of Agriculture tells us that the estimated area of palay loss is 731,924 metric tons.  Converted to rice after milling, that means 435,997 metric tons. All in a few hours from the time Ompong made landfall in Baggao, Northern Cagayan, until it exited via Ilocos Norte.

But the amount of rain it brought inundated a much wider area than I wrote about on Sunday.  I was amazed to find out that Nueva Ecija, Tarlac and Zambales, even Bataan and Pampanga were flooded by rains cascading from the Sierra Madre.

In 2012, the daily consumption of Filipinos, as per the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (now removed from DA and subsumed into the newly-created Philippine Statistics Authority attached to Neda) was 32,000 metric tons.

Some reports these days state a lower average national daily consumption, as low as 30,000 metric tons.  NFA spokespersons sometimes use this consumption figure when it wants to assure people they have enough rice yet.  In much the same way that NFA, at least before the present dispensation, always measured and reported rice in metric tons.  Today, they “bloat” the statistics by using bags of rice as metric.  

Mas marami nga naming pakinggan.  Sako ng bigas, rather than metric tons, or tonelada that ordinary people do not quite understand.  In this way, a chimera of sufficiency of stock is falsely created, when “millions” or “hundreds of thousands” of sacks are reportedly available.  Truth is, 32,000 tons daily means we consume 640,000 bags each blessed day.  

Twenty bags, each with 50 kilos of rice, constitute one metric ton which is 1,000 kilos, as our elementary students are taught. So, if 435,997 metric tons of rice were destroyed by Typhoon Ompong, that is the equivalent of 8,719,940 bags of rice.  Assuming 32,000 metric tons daily average consumption, that single day of wind and rain caused a loss equivalent to 13.62 days.  At 30,000 per day, that’s close to 15 days consumption.

That is a lot.  

NFA has imported 250,000 metric tons from Vietnam and Thailand, most of which has arrived.  They are importing another 250,000 metric tons to augment what by now is fast vanishing with long lines of angry consumers each day.  So what is yet to arrive in late October or early November (assuming NFA’s purchasing procedures are quick enough) will not augment current inventories, because an almost equivalent amount of harvestable rice was lost due to Ompong.

Back to square one.  Or rather, back to negative territory.

NFA has a stand-by authority to buy 250,000 metric tons more, or five-million bags more.  But when will they buy, and when will it arrive?  From where I sit, we will have a prolonged rice supply crisis.

* * *

If poor consumers will have to endure the “pila-bigas” longer, pity the poor palay farmer whose blood and sweat of hard toil are now washed down by tears.

The little they were able to prematurely harvest in the days leading to Ompong’s landfall are of poor quality. As in fruits, “hinog sa pilit”.  When milled, the grains tend to break easily.

NFA and the commercial traders, if at all, can buy rain-soaked and mud-caked palay at P10 to P11 per kilo.  If at all.

From a bonanza of P23 to P27 per kilo of palay down to P10, if there are any takers.

In 2011, after Typhoon “Pepeng” hit Central Luzon, some 900,000 metric tons of palay, also ready for harvest in two weeks, were lost. That meant 540,000 tons of rice, a hundred thousand tons more than what “Ompong,” as DA reports, exacted.

We asked Malacañang and DBM on Sept. 28 to release funds to buy storm-damaged palay at 11 per kilo, just to help farmers recover part of their cost of production.  It was not until Oct. 15 that then President PNoy and then DBM Secretary Abad listened to us. By then, there was little if any storm-damaged palay to buy.  Commercial traders had beaten government to buy whatever salvageable value there was.  

NFA could not by itself buy storm-damaged palay of little if any commercial value because CoA audit procedures would not allow funds to be “wasted” by buying something of no equivalent value.  NFA was required to get DBM, through a presidential directive, to buy “useless” produce.  It was like an insurance coverage post-facto.  More social responsibility than anything else.

What was it we once wrote in this space about “talking too much, doing so little, and acting too late?”

* * *

And that is only rice.  There were massive losses in corn as well, as Isabela reeled from Ompong. Isabela is the country’s largest corn producer, and the second largest rice producer. Watch the prices of pork and poultry in the months yet to come.

Benguet’s vegetables and strawberries were extensively damaged as well.  News reports last Monday showed carrots and cabbages in wet markets with triple the normal price.

It’s difficult days and weeks ahead for the consumer.  It’s dark months ahead for farmers.

* * *

Our hearts bleed for those who were killed, with the greatest loss being that of families buried in a landslide in Itogon, a few kilometers away from the debauched summer capital.

Even the “oratio imperatas” were too late to prevent the onslaught of nature’s fury.  But thank God we are a patient and resilient people, hardened by misery, hopeful as always.

Topics: Lito Banayo , The day after , Department of Agriculture , Typhoon "Ompong"
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