Rice importation seen minimal

Business World Online - 05 July 2012

THE COUNTRY may no longer import rice next year -- or may bring in only a minimal volume -- if palay production this year exceeds the targeted output of 18.46 million metric tons (MT), a Cabinet official said on Thursday.

“If production exceeds our target this year, then the excess can be used as our buffer stock, which means we could forego importation,” Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala told reporters in a media briefing on the second day of MakinaSaka 2012, a three-day agricultural machineries and equipment roadshow hosted by the department at the World Trade Center in Pasay City.

The Philippines is importing 500,000 MT of rice this year, of which the private sector will shoulder 380,000 MT, while the National Food Authority (NFA) will procure 120,000 MT from Vietnam as part of a government-to-government deal.

NFA imports rice to beef up the country’s buffer stock of the grain for the lean months of July to September.

In 2011, the country imported 860,000 MT of the grain, down by 64.17% from the record 2.4 million MT in 2010. Of last year’s imports, 660,000 MT was bought by the private sector and 200,000 MT was shouldered by the NFA.

The department aims to reduce imports as the government is targeting for the country to become self-sufficient in rice by the end of next year. “We will conduct a review by the end of the year. If we see that we have sufficient supply, then why would we still import?” Mr. Alcala explained.

Palay production this year is expected to total some 18.46 million MT. In 2011, palay output reached 16.684 million MT, up by 5.78% from the 15.772 million MT recorded in 2010.

“Even if we don’t exceed this year’s target, our importation will be significantly down. If ever we import next year, it will be between zero to 100,000 MT only,” said Dante S. Delima, Agriculture assistant secretary and coordinator of the National Rice Program, in a separate interview yesterday.

On Monday last week, Mr. Delima also said that palay production for the first semester of this year will likely be up by 5% from the 7.58 million MT recorded in the same period in 2011.

Actual production data will be released by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics in August.

The Agriculture chief added that the department aims to increase NFA’s local palay procurement and could seek additional funding from the Budget department for this purpose.

“There’s no problem with the budget. The president knows how crucial local palay procurement is in our goal to attain food self-sufficiency,” said Mr. Alcala.

NFA aims to buy 1.248 million MT of palay from farmers this year, according to the government’s food security road map Last year, the agency bought 280,382 MT for P4.76 billion. Procurement fell short of the targeted half a million metric tons that year.

NFA Administrator Angelito T. Banayo, however, said in March that the state grains agency may only be able to buy 591,675 MT of local palay this year as its funding is limited. The government provided the agency with a P4-billion subsidy for local palay procurement this year. The NFA buys palay from local farmers at P17.70 per kilogram.

Meanwhile, President Benigno S.C. Aquino III, in his speech at MakinaSaka 2012, called for more private sector investments in agriculture even as he lauded the Agriculture department’s efforts towards the attainment of the government’s food sufficiency target.

“Cooperation is key to ensuring long-term food self-sufficiency, as well as a stronger economy,” said Mr. Aquino.

He said investments in technology, such as machinery and equipment exhibited in MakinaSaka, would help the country reduce postharvest losses in rice.

“According to the Agriculture department, if we can bring down palay post-harvest losses by 6%, we may be able to add 650,000 MT to our rice stocks, which is more than the 500,000 MT we are importing this year,” he said.

Mr. Aquino said the government allocated about P1 billion last year through the Agriculture department’s rice program for the procurement of 2,300 post-harvest machinery and various farm equipment last year. This year, the program’s mechanization budget was raised to about P2.6 billion. -- Bettina Faye V. Roc