By Daniela Vidal
LIBERIA, Costa Rica — The average Costa Rican consumes 54 to 62 kilograms of rice per year. Rice is 100 percent part of the Tico diet found at breakfast, lunch, dinner and in desserts. Forty percent, if not more, of that rice is imported from the United States and South America.
Costa Rican rice producers feel the pressures of competing with cheaper prices from imports. A trek to the presidential house in San Jose was planned for today, but the protest was held off.
Producers and farmers had three reasons for protesting: high levels of imports are displacing national producers, betterment of the existing harvest insurance and stopping deregulation planned for March 1.
“Farming is the foundation of the economy,” said Erick Villalobos, a production manager at Liberia’s Arroz Sabanero. “The government is just not caring about food security and we are not able to compete.”
Villalobos’ comments do not reflect the views of Arroz Sabanero.
On Saturday the government and the Corporación Arrocera Nacional (Conarroz), which represents rice producers, reached an agreement. The government pushed deregulation back to March 1, 2015. Officials also promised to consider placing a safeguard for the Costa Rican rice market.
Farmers want to close off imports from the South American market so Costa Rican rice prices can go up, Villalobos said. Imports from Argentina and Uruguay were up by 279 percent this past year from 2012, according to an article in Nicaraguan newspaper El Nuevo Diario. Imported rice is typically cheaper than locally grown rice because production costs are lower in those countries than in Costa Rica.
“Because more rice is imported, there’s less area being planted for rice, so the farmers are most affected,” Villalobos added.
Erick Ulate, president of the Costa Rican Consumers Association (Asociación de Consumidores de Costa Rica), argues that rice is regulated at the consumer’s cost. According to study by the University of Costa Rica for the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Commerce, from 2010 to 2013 Ticos have overpaid $219 million for Costa Rican rice. Ulate is pushing for the deregulation of rice.
The FAO Food Price Index indicates international rice prices stayed high but steady compared with price drops of other cereals.