The food crisis is an excellent opportunity for reform
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-04-15
Seasoned CEOs regard crisis as inevitable and will prepare for it. They will seize the moment as an opportunity, rather than a setback.

Among CEOs, there will be the gamesman who hunts for new opportunities to reform, re-gear, and reshape corporate thinking, mindsets and directions in ways that will strengthen the firm and immunize it from similar threats in the future.

But our mediocre government managers are hardly people we can refer to as gamesmen. Facing today’s ongoing crisis on rice and other basic commodities, they grope for answers and stumble all over the place. To a gamesman, all this would present an opportunity for change, for the introduction of solutions that would lead to more cost-efficient ways of producing food.

In my over 35 years being a manager, including over 20 years as CEO of six corporations, I know that retooling a work force and changing mindsets is a challenge of Herculean proportions.

Getting a Filipino worker, whether from the rank and file or from middle and upper management, to accept the need to unlearn is no easy task. Human nature want status quo and change is always seen as a risk and a threat.

Why people want to hang on to practices and procedures that had already been established as wrong and unworkable defy logical explanation. Yet resistance is strongest as you go higher in the corporate ladder.

The rank and file employees are more willing to try new ways of doing things. They are limited in education and training and there is less to unlearn and more to gain by being open to change.

It will be the manager, especially one who has a Harvard Business School degree, who will tend to resist new paradigms that do not fall within the scope of what he had learned.

Before this rice crisis, no one even suggested putting a stop to conversions of agriculture land to other land uses. Food security has always been a major issue in most countries. In fact, the severe rice shortage and the long rice queues was a major cause of the defeat of Diosdado Macapagal to Ferdinand Marcos in the 1961 presidential elections.

The impact of not being self sufficient in rice was never felt during the time when imported rice was affordable. But rice exporters now have shortages in their countries and, of course, their citizens are their priority.

Because we have not paid attention to food self sufficiency and security, we end up with an empty basket. We have this situation despite the fact that we play host to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) which had been the very institution which led to the fantastic rice production of other countries in the region whose rice production managers were graduates of IRRI.

Thanks to the rice crisis, Filipinos are now seriously searching for alternative staples. Many of these are, in fact, far more nutritious and cheaper than rice.

Thanks to the food crisis an arrogant regime has been humbled to face the reality of how poor and hungry Filipinos really are that they would queue up in the punishing summer sun every day just to be able to buy a kilo or two of the staple at the lowest available price.

It is a sight to behold, one that revives images of the angry, hungry masses of the French and Russian Revolutions. It is this image of desperation that is the greatest threat to this regime, not the Opposition.

It is bad enough to have a rice shortage — when there is absolutely no rice to buy even if you have the money. But at least everyone will be in the same boat and the masses will find it futile to revolt. There is nothing to die for.

But it can be worse when you can display rice in the stalls that the hungry masses can’t afford. The thought that plunderers are eating Jasmine, Basmati or those other fancy sounding rice names and feasting everyday while the children of the masses cry from hunger pangs will prove to be biggest agitator for an upheaval.

Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) should rise above herself and see the underlying dangers that this food crisis is creating. On the other hand, the Opposition should not try to manipulate this crisis to further its agenda or to attempt to rouse a hungry mob to stage People Power.

GMA may have made her past mistakes and deserves to be made to account for this food crisis. But it cannot be done to such a reckless extent that the entire nation suffers. The regime and the Opposition can both become political fossils if this crisis boils over and turns into a landscape changing upheaval.

A hungry mob, especially one that sees them both as responsible for their pitiful plight, will be easily enticed to embrace radical ideologies and systems where both the regime and the Opposition will be out of the picture.

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