An agreement with the Papua New Guinea government allowing Filipino rice farmers to plant rice in the 46-million hectare nation with a population of only 8 million will improve the rice industry in the Philippines, according to Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Emmanuel Piñol.
“The proposed project will not only ensure the Philippines of stable rice supply but will also employ thousands of rice farmers and agriculture graduates from the Philippines,” Piñol said.
In a bilateral meeting with PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, President Rodrigo Duterte officially informed PNG officials that he will dispatch an agriculture delegation that Piñol will head to establish stronger agricultural and fisheries cooperation between the two countries.
President Duterte will visit PNG in November to attend the APEC Summit and witness a harvest in a rice demonstration farm.
Initially, a team of 22 farmers will fly to PNG next month to start the development of a 100-hectare rice demonstration farm within a Seventh Day Adventist College compound in Port Moresby.
Most of the farmers in the first group are Ilocanos and Ilonggos from North Cotabato who will receive an initial salary of P25,000 per month from a private company who will engage them.
In line with the project, Piñol asked the International Rice Research Institute to set up a satellite office in PNG and recommended to the PNG government to set up an office, which will serve as the sole administrator for buying rice from local farmers and for setting prices.
According to Piñol, this will be the third engagement between the Department of Agriculture of the Philippines and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries of PNG after a bilateral meeting between Duterte and O’Neil during the APEC Summit in Vietnam last year.
In initial discussions, the proposed bilateral agreement involves allowing Filipino companies to lease PNG lands to plant rice to supply the national requirement of the country estimated to be 400,000 metric tons.
Any excess production could be shipped back to the Philippines as PNG rice exports or could be exported to other countries in the South Pacific that have already manifested their interest to buy PNG-produced rice.
“I told President Duterte that even if the Philippines will achieve rice sufficiency by 2020 as projected by the DA, population growth will overtake the capacity to produce rice because of limited irrigated farm lands,” Pinol said.
“The President was briefed that to prepare for the future, the Philippines must consider outsourcing its rice supply rather than rely on imports from Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan, Cambodia and other countries,” he added.
Because of the very close relationship between the two countries and the presence of Filipino investors in the area, including processing and canning of tuna, it was decided, after consultations with top officials of the DA, that PNG is the more ideal country for the rice outsourcing program.
The DA said it is enthusiastic to establish a rice model farm equipped with modern farming technology in PNG to really help develop the country’s rice industry.
Papua New Guinea is a country with 46 million hectares of arable land with only an eight million population and imports about 300,000-400,000 metric tons of rice every year, mostly from Australia.