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Food Safety and the Food Crisis

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[Photo of Rice field]Recent news finds politics constantly competing with the GLOBAL food crisis as the hottest buzz of the day. The obvious solution to dwindling food supplies is of course to increase production by planting more crops, raising more livestock, and building more fishponds. With this comes increased fertilizer and feed use.

The business opportunities here are quite obvious. But the drawbacks are clear. For one thing, increased use of fertilizers, pesticides, and feeds means more pollution. Several types of cancers, algal blooms, and species extinction have been linked by countless studies to farm-originated pollution.

Farm Level production Losses

Last December, we went to Cagayan Province on a project with the Philippine Trade Training Center (PTTC). The PTTC is managed by the RP Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Its main function is to provide training and advisory services on entrepreneurship, export management, and quality and productivity improvement.

PTTC sends missions to Philippine provinces to help connect consultants with farmers, producers, and manufacturers, who would otherwise not have the chance to consult with outside experts. Our trip coincided with harvest season for the province.

Cagayan Province is the second largest producer of rice in the Philippines, the largest rice producer being neighboring Isabela. What we saw was both breathtaking and disappointing.

The roads were literally golden with the tons of rice being dried on the side—and in many cases, the middle also—of the highway, which stretches from Tuguegarao all the way to Port Irene 300 miles away!

The weather on the first day was quite hot and dry. On the second day of our visit, it began to rain. I asked the DTI representative what would happen to the rice along the road. He said matter of factly, “Mabubulok na lang yan” (It will all just rot). It was hard to believe that tons of rice were going to be wasted because of a lack of proper post-harvest facilities to handle (store and dry) the rice.

We later learned that up to 30% of annual rice production is lost this way. This is a very significant amount of losses, jeopardizing the journey of scarce palay to the Filipino dining table. If we consider the losses during harvest, piling, threshing, transport, milling along with drying on the roadside, the results may be staggering.

Profitability of Improving Food Safety

Drying rice along the highways is also a potential source of contaminants, which can be harmful to consumers, such as broken glass from street accidents, rocks and pebbles, feces and urine from mice and other animals, and rubber, gasoline, oil and similar products.

Not only is contaminated rice harmful, it is potentially unprofitable as well. For millers and bulk sellers, this can result in client loss or mass batch rejections.

It should be noted that most bulk buyers in the country are restaurants currently striving for or are already HACCP* accredited. This means they will only accept rice with a certain level of purity.

Something as simple as setting up proper drying and storage facilities will decrease rice losses by, at least, 30%. And if the rice is clean, sans contaminants, insects, and molds, this means more profit.     

Most experts agree that a Philippine rice crisis has been looming for years. But it was only during the first quarter of this year that its effects were truly felt. The Department of Agriculture projects the rice deficit at around 2.1 metric tons (or between 20% to 30%) of total production.

print ed: 05/08


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