Making rice affordable

Rice farmers tend to crops in the PhilippinesOver the years the price of rice, like most foodstuffs doubled. All of the 1,860 families in my Santa Cruz parish in the southern Philippines depend on rice for their breakfast, dinner and tea. In a short time I was getting hundreds of requests for help to buy rice. 

Finally the government stepped in and from its warehouses provided subsidised rice. I applied for a license to be a distributor of the government supplied rice. After sending Lydia who runs the parish office and the parish cathechical program for a seminar and meeting the other requirements I was given a license and the authority to buy 40 sacks of rice per week. 

Every Wednesday morning early Lydia makes her way on the one hour journey into the city to the government warehouse. There she lines up with the other licence holders to buy her 40 sacks. It usually takes most of the morning as it is not easy to get all the signatures needed before the rice is released from the warehouse. 

When it is finally released she negotiates with the driver of one of the hundreds of small passenger buses to deliver the rice to the parish and pays labourers to have it loaded on the bus. Finally it arrives in the parish in the afternoon where she again pays labourers to off load the sacks into our store. 

Sacks of rice are the staple food for many in the PhilippinesThere are 20 churches in Santa Cruz parish serving the different communities some of them over an hour away from the centre where I live. The mud roads are difficult enough when it is dry and very slippery when it rains. The only way to get to these communities after doing the shopping is by walking or riding on a passenger motorcycle that has heavyduty shock absorbers and can take two or three passengers on the back. Better off farmers and their families can get two or three people on a horse along with the groceries.

All of these communities have elected church officials who take charge of different activities in their churches like Sunday services, bringing communion to the old and sick, services for their dead, preparing for the annual fiesta, and the volunteer Catechists who teach religion in their schools.

Each community can purchase up to two sacks of rice per week. The rice is transported on a passenger motorcycle or a horse and by 6:00pm all the rice is on its way to the communities. There are 1,440 families on the lists who buy one or two kilos of rice every week. It seems a very small amount but as it costs half the regular price, for a lot of families, it makes the difference from going hungry.

Columban Fr Damien McKenna has been a missionary in the Philippines since 1969.