• ‘Rice crisis may lead to widespread hunger’

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    THE Department of Agriculture (DA) seriously needs to take up in urgency the reported rice supply shortage because it could lead to widespread hunger if not checked, according to Sen. Loren Legarda.

    Legarda, a known advocate of sustainable agricultural development, insisted that the current rice supply situation of the country is very alarming because it now goes beyond the issue of rice self- sufficiency and has become a food security concern.

    The senator made the call following the memorandum issued by Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, of National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) to president Benigno Aquino 3rd informing him about the country’s true rice situation.

    Balisacan in his memorandum stated that domestic supplies are low and can only be augmented by importing 500 metric tons (MT) of rice.

    Reports further say that the Balisacan memorandum details how the third quarter production forecast of 7.4 million MT does not suffice to cover total utilization amounting to 9.1 million MT, a deficit of 1.7 million MT without buffer stocks, which can even balloon to 2.6 million MT if a 30-day buffer stock is factored in.

    Legarda expressed belief that figures could be the reason why prices of rice has remained high despite assurances from agricultural officials that buffer stocks are sufficient and production figures within target.

    “This is alarming. It has become a food security concern and if domestic production cannot meet demand, prices will naturally increase as they already have,” the senator, who is also chairs of senate committee on climate change, said.

    The NEDA chief in his memorandum for the President, also recommended the importation of at least half-a-million MT of rice to “address the projected supply gap and stabilize prices or possibly lower them.”

    NEDA maintained that the importation should be done by the private sector and not the National Food Authority (NFA).

    Balisacan, himself a former agriculture undersecretary, in various published papers, had proposed “relieving the NFA of the burden of handling rice imports” supposedly because of the corruption associated with these transactions.

    It was previously alleged that the DA-NFA April importation was overpriced by as much as nearly half-a-billion pesos.

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