‘PH likely to import 1.3 million MT of rice’

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The country might need to import more rice next year to offset the impact of the El Niño and Typhoon Lando on rice production, a Cabinet official said on Thursday.

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Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said cluster agencies met with President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Wednesday and presented a draft El Niño roadmap, which includes imports the country might have to make to ensure adequate food supplies.

“Our recent assessment is that government would probably have to import an indicative 1.3 million metric tons [MT] of rice,” Balisacan told reporters on the sidelines of a briefing on the Typhoon Yolanda rehabilitation effort.

He explained that the 1.3 million MT would be the buffer stock for the second quarter of next year. It will add to an already approved 500,000-MT buffer for the first quarter of 2016.

Balisacan noted, however, that the importation figure was not yet final as the Agriculture department would have to conduct a reassessment.

“We have to compare notes when they have done their homework. But obviously we will need more for the second quarter,” he said.

In a separate statement focused on the announcement that inflation had stayed at 0.4 percent in October, Balisacan said it was imperative to continue monitoring drought in agricultural areas.

“There is a need to ensure supply adequacy and to intensify local community efforts in areas that are highly vulnerable and exposed to adverse impacts of a prolonged dry spell,” he said.

The Finance department has also issued a similar call given the significant agriculture damage caused by Typhoon Lando last month.

It cited Agriculture department data showing that 360,000 MT of palay had been damaged as of October 20, almost all in the rice-growing Central Luzon region. Assuming a 0.65 conversion rate, the lost palay translates 234,000 tons of rice or roughly seven days of annual rice consumption, it added.

“Already, the BAS [Bureau of Agricultural Statistics] estimated in July that total rice production in the second semester of 2015 would slightly decline by 0.5 percent owing to the dry spell,” the Finance department said.

Updating this estimate to incorporate the typhoon-caused losses would mean around a 4 percent decline in total second semester production, it claimed.

“The country may have to import more rice to replace these losses in domestic production and avoid triggering an inflationary spiral,” the Finance department said, also warning that the country’s buffer stock could drop to below 50 days.

“Rice buffer of close to the September 1 level of 58 days is needed to ensure rice price stability,” it said.

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