PH finalizing rice import plan ahead of El Niño

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THE interagency Food Security Committee (FCS) is expected to finalize next week its rice importation plan as part of preparations for a possible worst-case scenario in rice production due to the looming El Niño, which could mean a prolonged drought ahead, the National Food Authority (NFA) said.

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“We need to prepare our supply early so we will not play catch up,” NFA Administrator Renan Dalisay said in a text message.

Dalisay said that the FSC may allow the NFA Council to go ahead with the 250,000 metric ton standby authority for the year.

“I think initially they will probably recommend utilizing the 250,000 MT standby authority, which has not been utilized,” he said.

The NFA chief also said that discussions were still ongoing whether to schedule the arrival of the volume this year or next year, noting that the country still has adequate supply of the grains until December 2015.

“But given the severity of El Niño, they [FSC] will give recommendations if we need to beef up the industry inventory until end of the year,” he added.

The NFA Council, through the recommendation of the FSC, approved a total of 1.8 million MT of rice imports this year – including the 500,000 MT of rice awarded to Thailand and Vietnam in February; the 250,000 MT for the lean season and 250,000 MT reserve volume; and the 805,200 MT private sector imports under the so-called minimum access volume.

The approved grain importation still does not include the 300,000 MT under last year’s MAV which arrived earlier this year.

Discussions on another round of importation came on the heels of lower production expectations this year as harvest areas contracted due to insufficient water supply and intense heat because of the El Niño phenomenon.

To recall, Philippine Statistics Authority-Bureau of Agricultural Statistics said that palay production for 2015 may reach 18.86 million MT, 0.6 percent below the 18.97 million MT output in 2014.

In the January-June 2015 period alone, palay production was pegged at 8.32 million MT, which is 0.7 percent or 56 thousand MT lower than the 8.38 million MT output in 2014.

Significant reductions
“Significant reductions in output were noted in SOCCSKSARGEN, MIMAROPA, Caraga, Western Visayas and Northern Mindanao,” PSA-BAS said.

In SOCCSKSARGEN, the harvest area contracted due to delayed cropping in South Cotabato brought about by the closure of the NIA Aris Dam 2 for the rehabilitation of lateral canals. Also, some areas were damaged by the dry spell. Yield was lower due to insufficient water supply and damage by dry spell.

In MIMAROPA, there were damaged areas due to intense heat, while insufficient water supply resulted in lower yield. There were reductions of harvest areas and yield in Caraga and Western Visayas due to insufficient water supply and intense heat during the reproductive stage of the crop.

In Northern Mindanao, palay crop in some irrigated areas were totally damaged by the dry spell during reproductive stage in Bukidnon, while in Lanao del Norte some areas were not planted due to insufficient water supply. Yield decreased in Bukidnon due to insufficient supply of irrigation water and in Misamis Occidental, palay crop was infested by army worms.

For the third quarter of 2015, PSA-BAS expects output to continue its downward trend as probable palay production and harvest area may decline by 0.5 percent and 0.8 percent from their respective levels in 2014. On the other hand, yield may improve from 4.01 MT per hectare to 4.02 MT, or by 0.3 percent.

Based on standing crop, the July- September 2015 production may drop by 14.5 percent from 3.03 million MT in 2014 to 2.59 million MT this year.

“Except the Bicol Region, all regions expect decreases in production and harvest areas. These could be attributed to unrealized planting intentions as a result of delayed and inadequate release of irrigation water, late onset of the rainy season, and some areas left in-fallow. These were noted in Cagayan Valley, Western Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Central Luzon, Zamboanga Peninsula and SOCCSKSARGEN,” it said.

The improvement in yield could be traced to the high yielding technology adoption (HYTA) program of the government.

On the other hand, farmers’ planting intentions for October-December 2015 production and harvest area indicate positive growth by 5.1 percent each when compared to their respective levels a year ago. Yield is expected to remain at 4.05 MT per hectare.

“Production, harvest area and yield are expected to increase in several regions. There will be movement of cropping from the third quarter to the fourth quarter because of delayed plantings caused by insufficient supply of irrigation water and rainfall in the previous quarter. Significant increases in output are expected in Cagayan Valley, Ilocos Region, Eastern Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, and SOCCSKSARGEN,” the PSA-BAS said.

The NFA is under fire for the excessive importation of about 2.1 million metric tons of rice for 2015, which lawmakers said jeopardizes the livelihood of some six million farmers and agricultural workers nationwide.

‘Fatal consequences’
In House Resolution 2231, Bayan Muna Partylist Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Isagani Zarate said the Department of Agriculture (DA) claimed the country has attained rice self-sufficiency, having a total rice stock inventory of 3.02 million metric tons as of June 1 this year.

The figure was 30.9 percent above the 2.31 metric tons in June last year, records from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics showed.

Given the rice self-sufficiency figures provided by the DA, “the approval of excessive importation of a total of 2.1 million MT in rice imports for 2015 is highly irregular and doubtful,” Colmenares said.

Colmenares said excessive importation would have fatal consequences to the farmers. Even NFA admitted that the importation would cause the farm-gate price of palay to go down from its current price of P17 per kilo, Colmenares said.

The excessive importation would also affect the consuming public, Colmenares added.

“The Aquino administration has been marred by its incapability to distribute rice leading to overstocking, which results not only in expiration of these stocks but in potential abuse and supply manipulation as well,” Colmenares said.

“This was the case during the sudden spike in the price of rice and other agricultural products during 2014. Seemingly, the government has not learned anything from that experience,” Colmenares said.

The Aquino administration is likewise marred by slow rice distribution that is why, despite the record-setting importation, the consuming public did not benefit from sustainable rice inventories, particularly in the country’s critical areas, according to Colmenares.

Zarate noted that no less than President Aquino questioned the excessive rice importation during the Arroyo administration during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA). “Yet,” Zarate said, “the situation worsened during his term.”

Zarate pushed for a congressional inquiry, saying, “It is the primordial duty of Congress to partake in measures or actions that would ensure not only food security to the public, but also their protection from those who try to abuse our resources.”

Zarate said the House Committee on Agriculture and Food and the Special House Committee on Food Security should conduct an inquiry and summon officials of NFA, the Bureau of Customs and the Food Security Council to clarify issues relative to the importation and the country’s rice self-sufficiency.

Incoherent direction
“It is highly needed that the NFA, the BOC and the FSC be made to clarify whether or not the pronouncement made by Agriculture Secretary Prospero Alcala that the country is self-sufficient is true or not,” Zarate said.

For its part, the Rice Watch and Action Network (R1) believes the reported importation of 2.1 million MT of rice was due to the incoherent direction of the government in addressing the rice problem, with two different agencies running the rice commodity.

“The Department of Agriculture is focused more on raising productivity and incomes of farmers while the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agriculture Modernization, where the National Food Authority is currently linked, is just looking at the market side of the equation,” the group said.

R1 said that they have already raised in the FSC their concern for the very high target for importation set by the NFA, considering that the Philippine Statistics Authority reported an increase in rice output in the last season.

“We are doubly alarmed that the NFA’s target importation does not even include the target for MAV,” it said, adding that oversupply of imported rice will spell the death of livelihood for local rice farmers and that traders will exploit this situation to drive the farmgate prices of palay at their lowest possible rate.

“We believe that the government’s estimates of potential supply gap are without basis. The question is, who gained from this over-importation?”

Meantime, the prices of rice in the market remain at P37 to P45 pesos for kilo.

“We received reports that the traders cornered the procurement of palay in the last season because the NFA focused on rice importation. We challenge the NFA to flood the market to press the prices down so that the consumers will benefit from the oversupply during the lean season,” they said.

R1 still believes that a major leap in rice production is possible especially if the government will seriously implement its programs designed to achieve rice self-sufficiency.

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