Asian Century Journal

An Asian Century Philippines Publication

China-Philippines’ Crucial Cooperation in Food Production

By Herman Tiu Laurel

One of the major crises stemming from current geopolitical tensions that the world is facing today is the global fertilizer shortage threatening food production and mass starvation in many parts of the globe.

The Philippines is not exempted from this danger.

We are fortunate that due to its constructive political principles and practice, China is not affected by these crises, that last March, it donated P4 million pesos worth of fertilizers to the Philippines.

During the turnover of the fertilizer donation China’s ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said “At present, there are concerns about supply shortages and high prices of fertilizers affecting farmers around the globe. I am fully aware that Filipino farmers and consumers are currently experiencing the effect of the problem”.

Xilian further pledged that the People Republic of China will continue to support the welfare of Filipino farmers.

Internally, China has imposed an export ban on fertilizers but has made exception to the Philippines as special assistance to help newly-inaugurated President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos, Jr. to achieve his goal of P20/kilo rice supply to Filipino consumers. That is the impressive extent to China’s concern and commitment to the Filipino government and people.

No less than President Marcos Jr. reaffirmed this during the Awards for the Promotion of Philippine-China Understanding, when he said, “China is our strongest partner!”

China-Philippine Agri Cooperation’s Long History

If we are to do a comprehensive history of Philippine-China agricultural partnership, we could go back to hundreds of years when in the 15th century China acquired through the Galleon Trade potatoes from the Philippines, according to Wu Jiewei, Deputy Dean of the Southeast Asian Cultural Studies Department of Peking University.

But we will limit ourselves, however, to recent times when the full bloom of the “enhanced relations” between China and the Philippines is enjoying a renaissance.

We trace back the current cooperation between China and the Philippines to efforts of China’s “Father of the Hybrid Rice” Yuan Longpin who made the first of his 30 visits to the Philippines in 1979 and eventually sent 75-hybrid-rice strains to the Philippines for trial.

It was however in 2003 that the breakthrough was achieved as our agriculture department posted a 97% rice sufficiency when Secretary Luisito Lorenzo implemented an aggressive integrated government-private sector rice program promoting Yuan Longpin’s varieties in collaboration with Henry Lim Bon Liong’s SL-Agritech.

Local planters started experiencing rice harvests averaging 15-tons/hectare, or about 300 cavans per hectare which was triple the record of Masagana 99 established by former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. in the late 70s.

The boom and bloom in China-Philippine agricultural cooperation and productivity in this 21st Century really erupted when President Rodrigo R. Duterte won the Philippine presidency and thereupon made China his first state visit to a global superpower instead of the traditionally pilgrimage to the United States by all past Philippine presidents.

Subsequently $ 25-billions worth of assistance and projects were signed between the two countries that highlighted infrastructure and agricultural projects.

The long line-up of agricultural projects

While the China-donated Estrella-Pantaleon and Binondo-Intramuros bridge projects are treated like celebrities, their agricultural counterparts often get tucked in the rural areas and boondocks, but indeed they are no less significant.

Agriculture is the most significant foundation for a free and independent nation as it provides food security, although the other component to achieve that vital security aspect also include infrastructure, energy and industry.

Hence, one can say that the China-Philippines cooperation which includes all the components is indeed a wholistic approach to national development. But we are focusing on agriculture and the list in this aspect is long and continues to grow.

Foremost is the Philippine-Sino Center for Agricultural Technology (PhilSCAT) Program that has been in place for 22 years starting with initial $ 5-million dollars donation from the People’s Republic of China. It is now cultivating 226,500 hectares of commercial hybrid rice, boosting yields by 308,000 tons and benefiting more than 134,000 farmers.

Now on its third phase of development, PhilSCAT continues to serve with technological breakthroughs in hybrid rice research, genetics and farmers training.

In infrastructure for irrigation, there is the P 11.247-billion Agno River Integrated Irrigation Project which provides irrigation services for 34,450 hectares of farmland in Pangasinan 12-months a year. This was  followed recently by the P4.37-billion Chico River Pump Irrigation Project which now serves to irrigate 8,700 hectares of farmland and benefit more than 4000 households in Cagayan and Kalinga in Northern Luzon.

In aquaculture, China has also donated to the Philippines through the Seeds of Hope Project, some 200,000 fish seeds or fingerlings of Leopard Coral Groupers, in two batches, as part of China’s “program of sharing aquaculture know-how and seedling”. This grouper seeds variety when fully grown increases value by 120 times.

Agricultural and aquaculture training continues as over 400 Philippine officials and experts have attended training courses in China and nearly 200 Philippine officials and experts have received training online from China.

As the Covid-19 pandemic eases up it is hoped that more such educational and training exchanges are conducted, especially with the new interest in China’s “saline rice” or “seawater rice” farming trials, and upland water impounding projects with downstream mini-hydro-electric projects, and floating “cage aquaculture”.

Agricultural trade cooperation with China is a key interest of the Philippines as the pandemic economic recovery and “sanctions war” in the West has deepening the economic crisis in the Philippines. Cooperation with China has made China the third largest export destination of the Philippine agricultural products, and the second largest import source of agricultural products of the Philippines. For example:

Philippine bananas have accounted for more than half of the market share in China since the China-Philippines engagement in 2016. Philippine fresh coconuts have entered the Chinese market for the first time, and the Philippines has become the first Asian country to export avocado to China which used to all come from Latin America and the Caribbean.

At the same time China continues to be the second largest foreign investor in the Philippines with investment in agriculture making major strides.

Major and minor crises visit the Philippines regularly especially during typhoon seasons, but the Philippines was able to buffer the initial adverse effects of the War in Ukraine, with the arrival of China’s donation of 10,000 metric tons of rice to assist the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) National Operations Resources Center (NROC) for food needy families from the pandemic and now aggravated by the rice in food prices.

At this point I should reiterate the timely anticipation of China’s authorities to the situations in the Philippines as seen in the March 2022 fertilizer donation intended to “sustain rice production in the country” faced with skyrocketing world fertilizer prices.

While negotiations for further supply in the months ahead aims to be priced at $ 500 per metric ton almost 50% lower than the $ 1,000 global market price, it is in this aspect that we see the exemplary concern China has for the Philippines.

Philippines will rise with China

The greater part of the developing world is facing a debt crisis due to the twin mega-crisis that has descended on the world this past two years. The first crisis if the Covid-19 pandemic that is gradually lifting yet lingers on with feats of new mutations, the second is the unexpected Ukraine War severely aggravated by the US-led “sanctions war” against resource-dominant Russia which has precipitated an energy and food crisis. The Philippines will be spared in large part due to China’s steady support from its wholistic cooperation.

At the bottom of all crisis is the food and energy crisis, and both issues are being addressed by China-Philippine cooperation programs.

It is, therefore, not surprising that President Marcos, Jr. has chosen to first visit China, among the many invitations he received following his inauguration. If that will be the case, it will indeed be the wisest decision.

China is the only major economy growing despite the pandemic and the Ukraine “sanctions war” by staying clear of the conflict, treating all nations equally, focusing on helping build global peace and prosperity and not taking one side of the “small blocs” against another.

The rest of the developing world agrees hence the China-led BRICS is also growing. China is now the indispensable partner of any nation that seeks stability and growth, and most certainly of the partner of choice of the Philippines.

Teamed up with China, the Philippines is not only safe but also assured to be able to benefit from the Asia-Pacific regional tranquility and growth but also ensured to be able to exert its influence in promoting peace amongst all nations as part of the concert of nations.

It is certainly essential that China-Philippines agricultural cooperation be further expanded by the new Philippine government to guarantee its success in the six years to come.

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