Of Bread And Rice

>>> Shared from the Original Post at Manila Standard

“The unbridled importation of rice done over the last two years since quantitative restrictions were lifted, has become unfair competition to the lowly palay farmer with his small, economically dysfunctional plot of rain-fed land”

The small bakeries are a dying breed.

The conflict in the Russia-Ukraine area has denied the world almost a fifth of total world supply of wheat. Supply cannot catch up with regular demand.

The price of sugar is likewise way up. Once this country was one of the world’s largest suppliers of sugar. That day is gone.

Dividing our arable flat lands into small agrarian reform plots has denied plantation-grown sugar its economies of scale. Hold-outs among the Negrense landowners are reeling from the high cost of fertilizers and other inputs, labor included.

And yes, unknown to many consumers, even kneading the first-class flour that goes into pan de sal requires sugar. More so what we call “tasty,” or when I was growing up, “pan americano.”

Cakes and pastries, of course, but then that is a luxury for the middle class, and virtually unaffordable to the poor.

Cooking oil prices have also gone through the roof. You cannot make bread without oil. And it’s not just because Russia and Ukraine have denied Europe their sunflower oil.

In part it is because the Philippines, once the world’s top producer of coconut oil, has spawned an entire generation of poverty-stricken coconut producing “farmers.”

That is a long and woeful story. From the world’s top lauric producer to a net importer of oil palm and other vegetable oils. Quezon’s venerable Oscar “Ka Oca” Santos should write a book about this continuing saga of greed, incompetence, indolence and government neglect.

We used to bake our bread using brick-lined wood-fired ovens. We have since shifted to diesel or LPG. That is added cost.

And so too are electricity and water. All these are ingredients in the making of bread.

So now the bakers want to increase the price of our daily bread, the pan de sal, small and less tasty as ever, from 2 to 4 pesos apiece.

Or, they just might have to close down. Goodbye to the neighborhood bakery.

Until the good times roll back, and it seems that ain’t coming soon enough.


As we have repeatedly stated in this space, the Middle Eastern and North African heavy consumers of bread will soon shift to the usual substitute —rice.

As that demand rises, so will there be a substitution effect on the price of rice in the international market.

Meanwhile, extreme weather impacts on rice production, and many parts of the globe, particularly South Asia and even South America, have been reeling with these.

Unusually heavy rains causing floods that inundate farms, destroying newly planted rice crops, are taking toll on world supply.

In North America, there are droughts that impact on the production of rice, corn, and soybean. But that is another story, as its effects are felt more on livestock as far as we are concerned.

Worried about feeding their huge populations, grain producing countries in Asia are restricting exports of their grain. India has banned wheat exports. Soon it will be rice.

Thailand and Vietnam are slowly but surely increasing the export prices of their precious “white gold.”

Our palay farmers have been hit by triple increased fertilizer costs.

What used to sell for 900 pesos in 2021 is now 2,800 pesos per bag.

The Department of Agriculture advises them to use nitrogen-fixing bacteria developed by the UP Los Banos Institute of Bio-Technology, but there is little production of the same, because both DA and UP Los Banos are not market-savvy enough to promote widespread use of this major component of the fertilizer triad, namely nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

And the unbridled importation of rice done over the last two years since quantitative restrictions were lifted, has become unfair competition to the lowly palay farmer with his small, economically dysfunctional plot of rain-fed land.


We worry about our “daily bread,” be it pan de sal or rice.

Cebuanos and other Bisaya used to eat white corn as staple carbohydrate load.

But we hardly produce that now, and even so, like that grass we call palay, growing corn can be expensive these days as well.

The same goes for cardaba, or saba, which could substitute for rice. And cassava or kamoteng kahoy. They are now as rare as rare can be, the production gone only to banana-cue or turon, or even exportable banana chips.

But there are other weather vanes of food insecurity in our climate-challenged islands.

Vegetables are normally higher during the rainy season, but the high incidence of vegetable smuggling adds to the woes of our highland farmers. The same goes for onions, never mind garlic which we hardly grow other than in the Ilocos region.

And we are not writing about fruits, because we hardly produce any, other than bananas and mangoes mostly for exports.

Our bananas are threatened by the Panama disease. Mangoes hate La Nina. We have lost our guavas, our santol, our chico, our lanzones. Pay through the nose if you can find them in the market.

Likewise fish, which should be an oddity in a nation of more than 7,000 islands surrounded by water, although affected by the ongoing conflict over what is the West Philippine Sea versus the South China Sea.

The worst is yet to come. And we are now into the typhoon season. Pray these weather predators do not arrive in September or October when our poor farmers start their already meager harvests.

How I wish I could write about good things.

Thankfully, the new president has been picking, by and large, good men and women to key positions in his government. We can only wish him and them well as they grapple with the economy and its social effects.

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Lito Banayo
  • Lito Banayo