Rice output target stays despite El Niño

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THE Department of Agriculture (DA) is confident that it will hit its rice self-sufficiency goal this year despite the threat posed by the prolonged dry spell to the country’s farm sector.

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Edilberto de Luna, DA assistant secretary for field operations, said that the country would be self-sufficient in terms of rice production and that they are now moving to provide necessary interventions to hit the 20.08 million metric ton palay (paddy rice) production target by the end of 2015.

“We are maintaining the 20 million MT palay production target. We will not let go of our rice self-sufficiency goals,” de Luna told reporters.

According to a source, the interagency Food Security Committee (FSC) told the DA-National Rice Program to revise their palay production target to around 19.5 million MT due to the El Nino weather phenomenon, which is characterized by very warm weather and below-normal rainfall or prolonged dry spell.

The downward adjustment was in line with the projected output of 19.02 million MT as reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority-Bureau of Agricultural Statistics.

The source, however, said that FSC was only using the dry spell as an excuse to justify the massive rice importation and the failure of the National Irrigation Administration to deliver its commitment for new irrigated areas.

“They need a compelling reason to allow the entry of more rice imports. Then there was also the agencies that failed to deliver their commitments, like irrigation,” the source said.

The National Food Authority was given the authority to import an additional 500,000 MT of rice this year, of which some 250,000 MT will serve as buffer stocks during the lean season (July-September), while the remaining 250,000 MT will serve as standby volume.

NIA, on the other hand, should have delivered more than 200,000 hectares of additional production areas in 2010-2013 based on the to P130 billion Food Self-Sufficiency Program budget for irrigation from 2010 to 2016.

The Food Security Committee is chaired by the National Economic Development Authority, with members composed of the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Finance, Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomic Services Administration, Philippine Statistics Authority, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, NIA, DA, and the NFA.

NIA and NFA are under the supervision of the Office of the President’s Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization (PAFSAM) headed by Secretary Francis Pangilinan.

De Luna refused to comment on the particular reason for the FSC’s decision to lower the rice production targets for this year.

“Basta [Even so], we are sticking with our target and the PAS-BAS report is just a forecast. It will be like that if we will not do anything. We don’t want to say that we are already comfortable with just hitting 19 million MT,” de Luna said.

“Hindi namin hinuhulaan lang ang 20.08 million MT target natin. May pinaghuhugutan yan, at hindi basta hinuhulaan [The 20.08 million MT target was not just guesswork. The figures were based on something, and they were not simply guessed at]. We may miss this target, but at least we aimed for it,” the official added.

He also noted that target revision is unnecessary, noting that damage caused by previous droughts to rice crops were “insignificant” based on historical data.

The National Rice Program director also said that they are ready to take on the undelivered projects in order to meet the 100-percent rice self-sufficiency goals.

“Ibigay n’yo sa amin ang hindi madi-deliver [Leave the undelivered projects to us] and we will do the adjustments. But we will not revise the targets,” de Luna said.

Earlier, de Luna said they are asking the national government over P11 billion in budgetary support next year to sustain growth momentum and to increase climate change adaptation and disaster impact preparedness in the rice sector.

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