• Piñol to department of agriculture: Rice self-sufficiency ‘a must, not a choice’

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    Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on Friday exhorted top officials of the Department of Agriculture to ensure vigorous implementation of programs to achieve rice self-sufficiency in the Philippines.

    “We should hit rice self-sufficient within the next two years… It’s a must not a choice,” Piñol said in press conference after the department’s turnover ceremony in Quezon City.

    The new DA chief said that he ready to provide all DA regional offices with the necessary inputs and assistance, including irrigation facilities and seed requirements, for them to achieve self-sufficiency in their respective regions.

    “This administration is results-oriented. Any director that can’t do that will be asked to resign,” he added.

    Piñol said that the Philippines should strive for rice self-sufficiency at the regional level to mitigate the effects of climate change, noting that the latest El Niño episode clearly shows the need for government to continue pursuing the program.

    “It depend on how much is the rice requirement of each region. If all regions are rice sufficient, ergo, the whole country is rice sufficient,” he added.

    Obstacles to self-sufficiency

    Rice is a thinly traded, highly concentrated commodity with only 7 percent of total global production sold outside national borders. The top five exporters account for 80 percent of total exports, which makes importing countries vulnerable to export bans or restrictions.

    The drought that began last year and has continued into 2016 has negatively impacted agricultural production in several countries. It has also caused a decline in rice supply and stockpiles in many parts of the world, particularly in the world’s three largest rice exporters in the—India, Thailand and Vietnam.

    Thailand announced earlier this year that it will not increase rice exports, while Vietnam is expecting a slight drop in paddy rice production this year. The Philippines, according to various forecasts, is expected to fail again to achieve self-sufficiency this year due to drought and palay production falling below full-year targets.

    Critics have said that rice sufficiency in the Philippines is unlikely within the next 10 years, citing geographical conditions, lack of agriculture infrastructure, and failed implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

    According to the International Rice Research Institute, self-sufficiency is achieved when production exceeds consumption, so lower rice consumption should give a country a head start in achieving rice self-sufficiency. However, people in the traditional rice-importing countries (Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia) already eat less rice than rice exporters.

    On the supply side, IRRI said that each exporting country in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Lao PDR) has more production per person than each of the three rice-importing countries.

    “But, surprisingly, the reason for higher per capita production in the exporters is not higher yield. In fact, the importing countries have higher overall yield than do the exporting countries, because a higher percentage of rice land is irrigated in the importing countries,” IRRI said.

    “Rather, the exporting countries have much more rice area per person,” it said.

    In theory, the reasons why the exporting countries might have more rice area per person could be that their land is more suited to growing rice (as opposed to other crops), cropping intensity (the number of crops planted per unit of agricultural area) is greater, more land is used for agriculture, or more land is available per person (low population density).

    A common feature of the five rice-exporting countries is that they are all on the Southeast Asian mainland, while the importing countries are islands or peninsulas. The countries on the mainland have dominant river deltas that provide ample water and flat lands, which make it easier to control the water. Such an environment is suitable for cultivating rice.

    The importance of geography can also be seen at subnational levels: southern Thailand, a narrow peninsula, produces insufficient rice to feed its population and must “import” from the rest of Thailand, while Central Luzon in the Philippines, fed by the Pampanga River, produces more than enough rice for its own needs and “exports” rice to Manila.

    Other key rice importers in Asia are also islands or peninsulas: Japan, Korea, and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh is an exception, in that it is located on the mainland and devotes a large share of its crop area to rice, but the country is a small net rice importer because of its extraordinarily high population density, more than triple that of the Philippines (which has the highest density of the eight countries studied here).

    Thus, in terms of achieving rice self-sufficiency, island countries like the Philippines have a natural disadvantage. Less of the land is suited to growing rice, including Ilocos region, CAR, Calabarzon, ARMM, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula and Soccsksargen.

    “As a result, they cannot compete at the margin with the mainland rice exporters. On the best land, operating with the best technology, farmers in different countries are similar. But, the importing countries simply have less of that land than do the exporting countries,” IRRI added.

    From world’s biggest importer to rice exporter

    As of 2013, the Philippines was already at 97 percent self-sufficiency based on a study considering the interplay of rice production, per capita consumption and population. This was a significant improvement compared with the 82-percent sufficiency level in 2010.

    Piñol said that under his leadership, the Philippines, which has been a net rice importer for the last 50 years, will be able to export rice again.

    This objective is in spite of the fact that the Philippines is disadvantaged in rice production compared to major rice exporters like India, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – all of which are countries drained by large rivers.

    The country is also considered one of the most calamity prone nations with an average of 20 typhoons hitting the country annually. Rice production costs in the Philippines are also higher than in Thailand, Vietnam and India.

    By end of the Duterte Administration, Piñol also said that the National Food Authority should have a buffer stock of at least six months at any given time, which would be more than 600 percent higher than what is required by law.

    The state-run grains agency is required by law to have at least a 15-day buffer stock at any given time, and a 30-day buffer stock during lean months.

    Piñol said he would ask for at least P30 billion additional budget for the DA for this year to be used as an immediate assistance and rehabilitation fund for the agriculture and fishery sectors, which were badly hit by El Niño.

    He said that he already discussed the matter with incoming Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, and that the additional funding would allow the farm sector to recover faster from the worst drought to hit the country in decades.

    Piñol earlier said that at least 1 million hectares of new land planted with rice would be opened during his term. This would translate to an additional 4.8 million metric tons of rice, more than enough to cover the 1.8 million MT rice shortage annually.

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

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