written by Sonny P. Pasiona
“Why should we offer half rice? We barely mind rice wastage. What matters more is we get more sales with full rice.”
In a rice-loving country, these words are what some food establishments would argue why they refuse to offer half-cup of rice in their menus. But in the tuna capital of the Philippines, the local government is turning tables to promote a responsible rice consumption.
“If I haven’t attended the meeting, I wouldn’t have known the magnitude of rice wastage in the country,” said Aizabelle Iris Mangao, manager of a restaurant franchise that offers grilled Filipino and Asian favorites.
In early 2015, Mangao attended a consultative meeting organized by the legislators of the city government of General Santos about the then proposed GSC Riceponsible Ordinance.
The policy took effect December 2015 and declares that the city “shall adopt measures, which shall ensure responsible rice consumption and rice conservation.” It also pronounces to educate the consumers not to waste rice to help attain rice self-sufficiency in the country.
At the consultative meeting with over 80 representatives of small to large scale food stores, statistics were presented on rice wastage of the Filipinos amounting to P23 M a day, enough to feed nearly 2.6 M poor Filipinos. This reality awakened Mangao and her colleagues to make a conscious effort. They already started walking the talk long before the ordinance took effect.
Immediately, Mangao informed her restaurant’s owner, who also owns at least eight food franchises in the city about the ordinance. They then talked to the head office of the franchised restaurant that promptly approved its implementation. The half-cup of rice, roughly 80 grams, were incorporated at the point of sale (POS) which is also half the price of a full rice (P30) as mandated by the ordinance.
“Before we started advocating for the half rice in our store, we started in ourselves. We asked our staff to responsibly consume rice,” Mangao said.
Downscaling the policy
The year 2013 was declared as the National Year of Rice through Presidential Proclamation No. 494. The Department of Agriculture – Philippine Rice Research Institute (DA-PhilRice) enjoined rice producers, consumers, and policymakers to achieve rice self-sufficiency, specifically to promote less rice wastage among the Filipino people.
Pursuant to the proclamation, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) encouraged cities and municipalities to support to pass ordinances that will require the food service industry “to make half cup of rice available and visible in their menus.”
At the time of its celebration, then Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. authored the Anti-Rice Wastage Act of 2013. It seeks to penalize those in the food industry that refuse to serve half rice orders from the customers. Meanwhile at the House of Representatives, Congressman Agapito Guanlao made a counterpart bill to address food security. He proposed the Food and Food Staples Consumption and Zero Food-Wastage Management Act of 2013.
Taking off from the NYR celebration and supporting the bills filed at the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Be Riceponsible Campaign was launched to continue advocating for responsible and healthier rice consumption.
The campaign in 2014 reiterated memoranda and urged LGUs to promote its advocacies with policy-support. That was when GenSan’s Vice Mayor Shirlyn Nograles zealously responded to the call of the national government.
“With the issues on rice shortage, importation, and the health of the consumers, we felt that initiatives to address these issues were direly needed,” Nograles explained.
Late 2014, Nograles together with Councilor Brix Tan, chairperson on the Committee of Agriculture, co-authored an ordinance that institutes policies for responsible rice consumption in their locality.
The legislators made sure that the ordinance was relevant. Compared to other LGUs, a baseline study on rice wastage among 120 food establishments has been incorporated in their ordinance. It compelled food stores to annually record their rice wastage for a week to continuously monitor the rice conservation status in the city.
How’s it going so far?
According to the Vice Mayor, the food business sector had a good reception of the ordinance. In fact, some food establishments, including that of Mangao’s, had immediately posted promotional materials given by the LGU.
However, Mangao said that the ordinance so far still has little impacts in their store. Based on their data, only one out of 10 customers order half rice, mostly as an extra rice. She said that efforts towards this initiative shall be reinforced so more consumers will heed the call for riceponsible consumption.
“Right now we’re taking baby steps for gradual impacts. It’s an advocacy worth-pushing. We believe this remains relevant and we need to think of its long-term benefits,” said Vice Mayor Nograles.
With that, Nograles emphasized that intensive campaign of the ordinance in all modes is their top priority. “The value of rice conservation should enter the consciousness of the consumers. Only then can we see changes in their eating lifestyles,” she reiterated.
To intensively promote the ordinance, legislators are looking at tapping schools in organizing awareness activities such as poster-making contests that will involve students in the promotion of the advocacy.
“These posters may be used by the food establishments in their respective stores. We can also put other collaterals such as stickers so they can paste it on their menu boards,” said Ronan Villagonzalo, legislative assistant of Councilor Tan.
The legislators are also looking at encouraging the posting of information materials in the acquisition of business permits and license in the local food service industry.
While there are over 40 LGUs who have already passed ordinances on half rice, the Be Riceponsible campaign keeps taking huge strides for healthier and food secure Filipino communities. Consumption of healthier rice, specifically the brown rice, is also being lobbied. General Santos City has recently passed a resolution relative to it.
“We are now tapping major fast food chains to support our advocacies. In this way, downscaling a directive to their branches across the country can expedite its implementation,” said Hazel Antonio, campaign director.
As synergy among various stakeholders is deemed integral, Antonio furthered that they are partnering with various league of policymakers, meeting with hotel and restaurant owners, and promoting at various food festivals to expedite the campaign.
The elusive goal of achieving rice self-sufficiency is every Filipino’s riceponsibility. The consumers, producers, and policymakers as the key players in this endeavor shall meet halfway with parallel actions towards the goal of ensuring enough food for all of us.
With strong political will, multi-stakeholder collaboration, and responsible rice production, consumption, and conservation, we’ll surely get far and reach the finish line. Only then can we achieve a rice secure Philippines.
Sonny P. Pasiona works as a development communicator at the Philippine Rice Research Institute.