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Featured Photo Credit: Interaksyon | REUTERS | Eloisa Lopez

When news broke out that some rice farmers were forced to accept Php 7.00 for a kilo of paddy rice (palay), my wife and I started pondering what this means for us and how things got this way. We decided to do a bit of casual research — the type that stops at the first page of a Google search (because, well, casual) — and combine that with our experience as consumers. 

Every two weeks we go to Farmers Market for our milled rice (bigas), for which we pay Php 55.00 per kilo. How does Php 7.00 per kilo balloon to Php 55.00? What additional costs are added along the way? And is the price of Php 7.00 enough for the rice farmer to make a decent living with?

Farmers Market Price of Rice in the Philippines

After the palay is dried, the husk must be removed and the grains polished, packaged, and ported to market. The typical charge for rice milling is Php 65.00 pesos for a 50-kilo sack of rice — more commonly referred to as a kaban. That means that each kilo would have Php 1.30 added to it bringing the price to Php 8.30 per kilo. After some casual Googling, I, unfortunately, could not find any information on the price of warehousing or transportation. However, I think I would be safe in assuming that these two items account for much of the increase of the price of a kilo of rice from Php 8.30 to Php 55.00 for a kilo of well-milled rice. 

Flat bed rice on a truck
Photo credit: David McKee | Feb 2016

What my wife and I found out was that a kilo of rice that retails for Php 35.00 is sold at Php 1300.00 per kaban. This translates to Php 26.00 per kilo of rice, which means that there is a markup of Php 9.00 on each kilo. While Php 9.00 may not seem much (practically basic fare on a jeepney), it still constitutes a price increase of about 35%. Now, I have no idea if this is excessive or not since I cannot account for the various expenses that the retailer must shoulder such as stall rental, electricity, water, wages, and so forth. 

It is these gaps in my admittedly cursory investigation that have left me uneasy. I wish the information I needed was easily obtained by anyone who is even mildly curious. As it is, I discovered that I would have to do a lot of committed digging, and may even have to stick my neck out — an unappealing prospect.

Investigate the price of rice in the Philippines
Photo credit: Marten Newhall

There is a sadness, knowing that the common tao cannot afford the time and effort to dig deeper into this issue. Pisonet can only take you so far — if you even have access to it — and with a pervading and prevalent stressful environment, the allure of games and vegging out online is real. Traffic, stress, and other everyday demons eat away at our mental energy and reserves until all we can bring ourselves to care about is to just survive the day, crawl into bed, and zonk out. Our alarms go off, and it’s another work day — lather, rinse, repeat. That extra cup of rice (costing anywhere from Php25.00 to a whopping Php45.00) just might nudge us to remember that our farmers do not benefit from these prices — that is until we need to clock back in after lunch break. 

Shouldn’t the price we pay for food, especially a staple like rice, have a breakdown that tells us which parts of the supply chain are expensive, inefficient, wasteful, and have need of streamlining? And, for that matter, shouldn’t we be more concerned about how our daily bread gets to us, and how those who produce it are treated? The price of Php 7.00 per kilo may have been an exaggeration, but even at Php 17.62 per kilo, our farmers can barely make ends meet since it already costs them Php 12.00 to produce a kilo. With earnings that barely reach Php 6.00 per kilo, it is a wonder how they can meet their daily needs of food, shelter, clothing, medication, and so forth, let alone that of their families.

Instead of being consumers at the end of a supply chain, shouldn’t we be active participants in ensuring that every link in our food supply is fair and sustainable? And isn’t the most basic way we can participate is to vote on this matter?

By no means do I regard this research closed and complete. If the questions above leave you feeling queasy, trust me, you are not alone. I’ll be chewing on these conundrums alongside you, a mouthful of rice at a time.