• Food crisis looms despite NFA assurances

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    THE country is likely to suffer a deficit of as much as 1.4 million metric tons (MT) of the rice despite production rebounds in the fourth quarter of the year according to the memorandum issued by National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).

    The memorandum recently bared by Sen. Loren Legarda, clearly contradicts claims of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Food Authority (NFA) that the country has enough buffer stock of rice to last for more than 51 days.

    “This probably explains why the public continues to be burdened with unstable rice prices despite assurances from agricultural officials that buffer stocks are sufficient and production figures within target,” said Legarda, who authored the Senate resolution calling for an inquiry on the country’s rice situation.

    Based on the NEDA memorandum dated September 10, 2013 and signed by NEDA Secretary Arsenio Balisacan food security crisis is to hit the country should the government fail to import 500,000 metric tons of rice before the end of 2013.

    The NEDA memorandum, received by Office of Executive Secretary (OES) Paquito Ochoa Jr., states that the additional importation of at least 500,000 metro tons of rice should be immediately pursued to address the projected supply gap and lower, if not stabilize rice prices.

    Copies of Balisacan’s three-page memorandum were also sent to Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, Secretary Julia Andrea Abad, presidential management staff and Secretary Proceso Alcala of the DA.

    Alcala and other DA officials have been claiming that that there is no rice shortage in the country and that the scenario is just being floated by “rice smugglers” that were severely affected by the strict policy imposed by the NFA on rice imports.

    The DA chief noted that the country already completed its rice imports requirement for this year—around 200,000 metric tons. The imported rice arrived last June, which means that no rice imports will be allowed this year.

    DA’s own Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) director, Assistant Secretary Romeo Recide, admitted, during an inquiry at the House of Representatives, that there is a production shortfall of more than two million MT and supply deficit of 500,000 MT for 2013.

    Recide’s admission confirms Balisacan’s memorandum about the rice supply shortage, but neither of them wants to grant interviews regarding the forecast.

    Meanwhile, BAS data also posted record increase on the prices of regular and well-milled rice last month.

    Average retail price per kilo of regular milled rice for September 2013 was recorded at P36 a kilo, P4 more than pre-lean season prices and P3.60 a kilo more than the same period last year.

    The average retail price per kilo of well-milled rice also hit an annual high, with prices pegged at P39.2 a kilo, P4 more than pre-lean season prices and P3.70 a kilo more than in September 2012.

    46-day stock
    The country has sufficient rice supply for the next 46 days, with additional stocks expected to replenish the inventory as major rice producing provinces starts harvest season, the BAS reported on Monday.

    In its latest inventory, BAS said that as of September 2013, the country has enough rice to meet demand, noting with stocks in households would be good for 16 days, while combined stocks in commercial warehouses and NFA would last for 30 days.

    It also said that the September 2013 inventory was placed at 1.53 million MT, higher by 6.1 percent from the stockpile of 1.44 million MT in the same period last year. However, it is 17.7 percent lower than the previous month’s record of 1.86 million MT.

    Compared with the previous month’s level, rice stocks in households and commercial warehouses decreased by 15.9 percent and 14.7 percent, respectively. Stocks in NFA depositories, of which 41.5 percent were imported rice, dropped by 22.2 percent.

    Of the total rice stocks at the start of September, households accounted for 35 percent, NFA depositories shared 32.4 percent while 32.6 percent are held in commercial warehouses.

    The country is now in the middle of the harvest season for palay.

    Earlier, BAS said that it expects higher palay and corn production in the second half of 2013 because of expansions in harvest areas and better yield results due to increased government interventions in all rice and corn producing regions.

    In its latest forecast, the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Statistics said that the probable palay production for July to December 2013 was at 10.46 million MT, or 3.1 percent higher than last year’s 10.14 million MT.

    WITH REPORT FROM JAMES KONSTANTIN GALVEZ

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