POSTSCRIPT / June 23, 2022 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Looming food crisis acid test for Marcos

For generations, the usual meal of the average Filipino family has been described often as “rice and fish”, with food production defined by agricultural areas spread throughout an archipelago teeming with fishery resources.

Chicken, meat, Fish and veagtable products stay on high prices due to more demand less supplies. Photo: PHILSTAR/ Walter Bollozos

The rising price of food reminds us of those days when provincial folk would add nutritious dishes to their menu by picking edible leaves, flowers, and fruits from backyards and never having to worry about the supply of affordable rice running out.

But arable areas have dwindled with their conversion to housing projects that give an illusion of people going up the social ladder. When the flat areas near the town proper ran out, developers scaled higher grounds and cut trees for more housing areas.

Land reform has divided the big haciendas into small farms to satisfy the longing of tenants to hold titles to their own family farms. But many former tenants attracted to suburban life and prospects of working abroad, have left the unexciting fields.

Commercial farming must regain economy of scale after it lost acreage and workers. The millers, merchants, and money lenders, meanwhile, have formed cartels that, in cahoots with corrupt officials, control the production and marketing of rice and other crops.

Some grains merchants have turned to importation where easy millions could be made with the connivance of corrupt officials handing out import licenses and quotas, dictating farmgate prices of palay, and the shipping details of grain imports.

Out at sea, the stunted growth of commercial fishing – which could fill the growing demand of a burgeoning population – is complicated by the hesitancy of the government to stop the poaching of foreign fishermen in Philippine waters. What will be done about this?

Instead of competing with the better-equipped foreign fishermen, some Filipinos have taken the easier line of selling their catch out at sea to the aliens.

Some of the fish caught by poachers and those sold to foreigners out at sea later find their way back to local markets.

With the exiting Duterte administration having failed to fix the graft-ridden and mismanaged agricultural agencies, how will President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. restart the faltering agricultural engine?

Marcos has announced that he would also function as the secretary of agriculture “at least for now”.

Surely Marcos knows about Thailand and Vietnam – which account for 10 percent of global rice production and from whom we import the grain – having agreed to raise the price of their rice exports. (The irony is that many Thai and Viet rice growers who trained in the Philippines on rice culture are now selling cheaper rice to Filipinos.)

What will Marcos, as president and agriculture secretary, do about what appears to be a looming food crisis?

Aside from his answering how soon he can make good his campaign promise to lower the retail price of rice from P30/kilo to P20/kilo, we would like to hear Marcos’ answer to one question we once asked a former president:

Which comes out cheaper for the consumer – between producing our own rice and just importing it. And which do you prefer to adopt as a policy?

 Nobel gold medal sells for $103.5M

Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov who shared with the Philippines’ Maria Ressa the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for their fight for free speech has sold his gold medal for $103.5 million to raise funds for children displaced by the war in Ukraine.

“I was hoping that there was going to be an enormous amount of solidarity, but I was not expecting this to be such a huge amount,” Muratov said after bidding in the nearly three-week auction ended Monday on World Refugee Day.

The AP said that the most ever paid for a Nobel Prize medal was $4.76 million in 2014, when James Watson, whose co-discovery of the DNA structure earned him a Nobel in 1962, sold his. In 2013, the family of his co-recipient, Francis Crick, received $2.27 million in bidding also run by Heritage Auctions.

If melted down, the 175 grams of 23-karat gold in Muratov’s medal would be worth about $10,000. Ressa, co-founder and CEO of Rappler, was given an identical gold medal in the Nobel ceremonies in Oslo last Dec. 10.

Muratov was the editor-in-chief of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta that he helped found. It was shut down in March as the Kremlin clamped down on journalists and public dissenters after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

Since Vladimir Putin came into power more than two decades ago, nearly two dozen journalists have been killed, including at least four who had worked for Muratov’s newspaper.

The AP said it was Muratov’s idea to auction off his prize after he announced that he was donating the accompanying $500,000 cash award to charity.

He said the proceeds will go directly to UNICEF in helping children displaced by the war in Ukraine. Within minutes after bidding ended, UNICEF told the auction house it had received the funds.

Online bids began June 1 to coincide with the International Children’s Day observance. Many bids came by telephone or online. The winning bid, tendered by telephone, catapulted the bidding from the low millions to astronomical levels.

Muratov left Russia on Thursday for New York City, where live bidding began Monday evening. Early Monday, the high bid was only $550,000. The AP said the purchase price had been expected to spiral upward — but not over $100 million.

“I can’t believe it. I’m awestruck. Personally, I’m flabbergasted. I’m stunned. I don’t really know what happened in there,” said Joshua Benesh, the chief strategy officer for Heritage Auctions which managed the sale.

The most ever paid previously for a Nobel medal was $4.76 million in 2014, when James Watson, whose co-discovery of the structure of DNA earned him a Nobel in 1962, sold his. In 2013, the family of his co-recipient, Francis Crick, received $2.27 million in bidding also run by Heritage Auctions.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 23, 2022)

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