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A precarious future in the rice paddies

Guardian: Part 2 on world food crisis, Philippines rice farmer on problems he faces feeding six children

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Story Transcript

VOICEOVER: From high in the terraced paddy fields of Banaue in the north of the Philippines, Marlon Tayaba is on his way to market. It ought to be a road to prosperity for a farmer in one of the world’s most famed rice-producing areas—a global food shortage has pushed up prices to record highs. But for Marlon, the weekly journey is a source of concern. Like his country, he doesn’t grow enough to feed his family, so he has to buy. That’s bad news this year, because every time Marlon goes down the mountain, the price of rice goes up. At the grain shop, staff say the price of a 50-kilogram sack is up 160 pesos. Stocks are low. They’re not sure of the next delivery.

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MARLON TAYABA (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Why don’t you have much rice? When will it come?

MERCHANT (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Later maybe at 3pm. Stocks will come from Santiago.

TAYABA: Why did the price suddenly go up?

MERCHANT: I don’t know. This is all we’ve got. Maybe this can do?

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VOICEOVER: Marlon takes all that is left—a half sack. Last year it would have cost about half as much. Rice now takes up almost all of his income, but he has no choice. These shopping trips are becoming more frequent because his family has grown. At its rawest, the food crisis is about population. When he moved to this hillside shack 13 years ago, Marlon had two fields and two mouths to feed. Now he has six extra children. They cook rice morning, noon, and night. Plates throughout the Philippines must be partly filled by global markets. The country is the world’s biggest rice importer, because it doesn’t produce enough for itself. These children are part of a fast-growing population of 91 million. When they grow up, several are likely to join the millions who move from food-producing villages into food-consuming cities. Worldwide it’s the same: growing, moving populations are doing the most to push up prices. Marlon’s family must now stretch further to make ends meet. Like millions of other poor Filipinos, his wife is overseas.

TAYABA (VOICEOVER TRANSLATION): I earn 200 pesos a day, but it is not enough. That is why my wife went abroad. She can help me survive, but it’s still not enough—she only earns 8,000. But it’s still not enough for us.

VOICEOVER: Earlier this month, Marlon cashed in the closest thing the family has to an insurance policy—its four piglets. The sale keeps the children fed for a few more weeks, but it leaves the family vulnerable. Only the sow and the chickens are left. For now, this farming community is just about coping. But the challenge to grow enough rice for an expanding population will not get any easier. Marlon has never heard of climate change or biofuels, which are adding to the difficulties. Instead, as he tends his paddies, he, like his forefathers, is putting his hope in a good harvest, and praying that prices will stop rising, and the upcoming typhoon season won’t blow his family into destitution.

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.