The onset of continuous rains in the middle of the palay harvest season has underscored the sad plight of Palawan’s rice farmers as the farmgate price of dry palay dived rock bottom, averaging at P10 to P11 per kilo, in some instances even going at a pitiful P7, according to a recent Palawan News special report.

While it is understandable that there is a tendency for the prices to go down during the harvest season by sheer supply-and-demand dynamics weighed down even more by the externality of the ongoing pandemic, there is no reason why the government should continue to ignore this situation.

The problem is not apparent to most, especially those who are not farmers. The recent typhoons did no damage to the rice plantations of Narra and elsewhere and harvest had continued. The government has lifted quarantine restrictions on the flow of food supply in general even as the ports remained locked down to general travel. Retail prices of commercial rice have remained steady throughout the health crisis period.

Despite this situation, Palawan’s palay farmers have been taking a serious hit. They had spent on the average roughly P13 per kilo input investment in the planting but are now forced to sell at a loss. Are the traders and buyers the ones taking advantage? Not necessarily, according to them, as they are also constrained by factors beyond their control.

The Palawan News story has raised several important talking points for policy, which deserves a closer look by the government. That includes for instance the apparent absence or the weakness of the support structure to aid the farmers, including drying facilities and warehousing. The national government also ought to review the efficacy of the National Food Authority’s performance in purchasing harvests at predetermined prices with the objective of propping up the farmgate pricing.

There are an estimated over 30,000 farmers dependent on rice farming in Palawan, a province that has one of the highest poverty incidences in the country. Its poverty index of somewhere over 50 percent, based on the provincial government’s own study, is significantly higher than the official national poverty index hovering around 20 percent.

Leaving this situation unattended does not bode well for Palawan’s struggling agriculture sector and the overall effort of the government to address widespread poverty. A continuation of this problem does not only weaken further the province’s important agricultural base but more importantly compromises its food security.

This is an agenda that should take precedence over politics, one that has recently become more evident.