El Niño is a lesson in food self-sufficiency – Agri chief

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The El Niño episode clearly shows the need for government to continue pursuing self-sufficiency, not only in paddy rice production but also in other food staples, said Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.

“We should really take a close look at our importation program. When rice exporting countries are also hit by El Niño and prices shoot up, are we just going to surrender our production and put the fate of our nation to just importing rice?” Alcala told reporters on the sideline of the Agri-Pinoy Rice Achievers Award in Pasay City on Thursday.

Rice is thinly traded and global trade of the commodity is highly concentrated, he said.
Only 7 percent of the global production is sold outside national borders, with the top five exporters accounting for 80 percent of total exports.

This makes importing countries vulnerable to export bans or restrictions, Alcala noted
“At present, when prices . . . are still low, importation is ideal. What if prices shoot up over $1,000 per metric ton? What will happen to us?” he said, citing a possible repeat of the 2008 food crisis.


Alcala was reacting to reports that the drought has impacted negatively on agriculture output in several countries.

The ongoing drought has caused a fall in rice supply and stockpiles in many parts of the world, particularly in the three largest rice exporters—India, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Thailand is not increase rice exports while Vietnam expects a slight drop in paddy rice production this year.

The Philippines, on the other hand, is expected to fail anew in achieving self-sufficiency due to drought as palay production falls below the full-year target.

The official emphasized global market realizes make rice self-sufficiency a desirable goal. He said rice trading is the subject of political decisions by governments of the biggest market players. Such governments consider rice a vital commodity.

Rice traders and exporters are now closely monitoring Manila’s importation policy as it prepares for the lean months.

NFA Administrator Renan Dalisay said the Food Security Committee has yet to decide on a rice importation scheme for the buffer stock requirements as the inventory at state-owned warehouses remained high.

“We are considering all options. It is still harvest season, so the arrival of the imported rice
should still fall during the lean months,” Dalisay said in a text message to The Manila Times.

The lean months are July, August, and September.

Alcala is urging the NFA to buy more locally produced palay on the heels of reports that farmgate prices remain below profitable levels.

“I will write a letter to the NFA administrator to prioritize local procurement. Farmers should not be the last recourse,” the DA chief said, “If they need to rent, they should rent. Lack of warehousing should not be a reason not to buy from farmers.”

Despite the El Niño, government expects palay production not to fall significantly last year as damage caused by the drought seemed negligible.

“At the start of the El Nino, we have projected damage of around 950,000 MT of palay.

But as of April 14 this year, we have sustained only about 233,000 MT, which means that our mitigation programs were effective,” Alcala claimed.

Palay production is forecast to reach 18.15 million MT for 2016.

Alcala said the department is aiming for 19 million MT.

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