P55B needed for rice sufficiency


By Darwin G. Amojelar, Reporter

THE Philippine government needs at least P55 billion to achieve self-sufficiency in rice by 2010, a government official said.

In the economic managers meeting on Thursday at the Manila Golf Club, Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Augusto Santos said the officials agreed the need to increase the amount to P55 billion from P43.7 billion to have more funds for irrigation.

President Gloria Arroyo earlier unveiled the P43.7-billion initiative for Philippine agriculture called FIELDS, an initiative where massive amounts of funds will be infused for fertilizers, irrigation and other rural infrastructure, education and training for farmers, loans, dryers and other post-harvest facilities, and seeds of the high-yielding varieties.

Of the total P55 billion, Santos said the bulk or 60 percent will finance irrigation, and the remaining amount will go to fertilizer, education and training of farmers and fisherfolks, loans, dryers and other post-harvest facilities, and high-yielding seeds.

“The proposal will be presented to the NEDA [National Economic and Development Authority] Board meeting soon for approval” Santos said.

Santos said the budget for the rice self-sufficiency program will be financed through government’s yearly budget.

The government is targeting a 100-percent self-sufficiency in rice by 2010 or 2011. Today, the country’s rice self-sufficiency is from 90 to 95 percent, making imports of the staple necessary.

Palay production this year is projected at about 17 million metric tons for a population of about 89 million.

According to Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), the country can save up to $500 million annually from importing rice if local rice production is boosted to self-sufficient levels.

The Department of Agriculture earlier said that Philippine rice imports may increase to 2.1 million tons this year, from 1.9 million tons in 2007, as rising wheat prices make bread and pasta less affordable to poor Filipinos, boosting demand for cheaper food products.

Rolando Dy, an economist at the University of Asia and the Pacific said rice stocks are going to get tight with hoarding by households and other parties.

“Imports will provide the supplementary supply, but supply will remain tight till end-September 2008 as exporters and speculators are holding back,” he said.

Dy added that the frequent announcements by the National Food Authority (NFA) of large procurement of rice stocks have partly contributed to sharp increases in world rice prices.

“Other Asian neighbors, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, are doing these [sourcing rice imports] practically under stealth,” he said.

Thailand may supply rice

An NFA executive said Thailand has not yet confirmed if it will supply the Philippines a certain volume of rice requested despite the signing of an earlier agreement.

“The MoA [memorandum of agreement] has been finalized but it is still for review of the Thai people. They have not replied yet and we never can tell when and how it will turn out to be,” said Nestor Puangco, NFA Division Chief on Foreign and Marketing operations.

Thailand Prime Minister, Samak Sundaravej is here in the country in talks with President Gloria Arroyo regarding the current food crisis. But, Puangco said he is unsure if Sundaravej will finally affirm the agreement.

“When we met with them [Thai representatives] personally last Friday, they expressed that they are serious to help us,” Puangco said. “I think this will push through.”
— With Christine Joyce S. Placino (ManilaTimes)

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