Farmers from the Central Luzon region are set to petition President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to cease rice imports immediately, and redirect government funds to aiding Philippine farmers boost rice production.

The leaders of the farmers’ umbrella group Alyansang Magbubukid ng Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) have met in Barangay Dolores for a regional forum on the issue. Secretary general of AMGL, Lita Mariano, revealed that farmers are concerned that the future of domestic rice production will be threatened without significant government support.

For example, she explained that in 1998 the Philippines government spent US$585m to import 2.1m tons of rice. The annual national crop averages at about 4.2 tons and if the money spent on imports is redirected into subsidies the farmers will be able to produce greater amounts of cheaper rice to cater for the country’s needs.

Currently, she explained, farmers are financially bound by powerful private market players, who control rice prices by loaning money to farmers for agriculture inputs.

Mariano added that farmers would also protest to Arroyo over the privatisation of the National Food Authority (NFA).