The Philippines has enough rice supplies and may even be 100-percent self-sufficient in the staple by the end of the year.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said that after a record palay (unmilled rice) harvest last year amounting to 18.1 million metric tons, the country’s output is projected to hit 20 million MT this year, which will be enough to feed the country’s population of 97 million.
He said the country was importing less rice since 2010, because the palay output had improved over the past two years.
“In 2010, rice imports were 2.4 million MT. It went down to 860,000 MT in 2011, 500,000 MT in 2012 and only 200,000 MT this year,” Alcala said during a roundtable with editors of The Manila Times on Thursday night.
He added that the country saved P61 billion from fewer rice imports over the past three years.
“[Rice] demand and production is expected to be equal this year,” the Agriculture secretary said.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) has placed per capita rice consumption at 114 kilos per year. A kilo of palay when milled yields from 60 percent to 65 percent polished rice.
Alcala said in June 2010, after Benigno Aquino 3rd became President, nobody believed that the Philippines could achieve rice self-sufficiency.
He said the DA studied very carefully how the country could achieve rice self-sufficiency, and even reached out to the farmers.
“Talagang pinagaralan ito [This was studied carefully],” he said.
The DA then invested heavily on improving the country’s irrigation system for rice farms, seed quality, mechanization, and post-harvest facilities.
The Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS), an attached agency of DA, placed the country’s total irrigated area as of 2012 at 1.626 million hectares, compared to 1.519 million hectares in 2008.
In May this year, the mechanization level of corn and rice farms in the Philippines was 2.31 horsepower per hectare, and 1.23 hp/ha for all farms. The Philippines’ farm mechanization level in the mid 1990s was at 0.52 hp/ha.
Farmers in irrigated rice lands can have up to five croppings in two years, compared to the four or three in rain-fed lands. Meanwhile, mechanization through the provision of equipment for plowing, transplanting and harvesting can increase production by at least 5 percent.
The DA also assigned its attached agency, the Philippine Rice Research Institute, to produce more high-yielding seeds.
Alcala said that through those interventions, the average palay output per hectare is now 4 MT, an improvement over the 3.8 MT/hectare in 2010.
He said that with enough rice supplies, there was no reason the retail price of rice would increase.
He hinted that a “moneyed” group of rice traders wanted to jack up rice prices to make a profit.
“There are rice traders who are helping us, [but]the new ones in the industry, yung may pera [the moneyed ones], those who benefited from rice imports,” Alcala said.
With the palay harvest for the wet planting season starting next week, he saw rice prices stabilizing nationwide.
Alcala said that even with the improvement in palay production since 2010, the DA formulated the Food Staples Sufficiency Program (FSSP) in 2011, which stipulated the improved production of root crops and other substitutes for rice, including white corn which is currently the staple of 14 million Filipinos mostly in the Visayas.
The FSSP will eventually reduce the pressure on domestic rice supplies because it encourages Filipinos to consume alternative carbohydrates sources like cassava, sweet potato (kamote), and saba (banana).
Before the FSSP, cassava and sweet potato were treated as “orphan crops,” planted by farmers who have a hard time cultivating any other crop.
Cassava and sweet potato, unlike rice, can be grown in areas where water is scarce. Rice, on the other hand, needs large water inputs.