Jill Beltran and Jonathan de Santos
Sun Star Manila
April 13, 2011
MANILA – The government on Tuesday denied a looming rice crisis in the Philippines despite an intelligence report citing the shrinking supply of the staple food of most of the 90 million Filipinos.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala denied the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (Nica) report stating that the country’s rice deficiency may escalate into a national concern.
“We have not received an official report from Nica. We don’t know where that report came from,” he said in a press briefing in Malacanang Palace.
He said President Benigno Aquino III has not been informed about such report and even the Nica itself has denied issuing such statement.
The Agriculture chief believed that the rice cartel is behind such report.
“I could not think of any other reason why there was a sudden news of rice shortage. Maybe some traders who benefitted from the past system were mad at us,” he said.
On the other hand, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Teddy Casiño labeled the Nica report as “deceptive and highly suspicious”.
“This is apparently a deliberate attempt to preempt the people’s protests versus the administration’s decision to allow private entities to jack up the price of imported rice, among other wrong agricultural and economic policies,” Casino said.
He added that the report was “an alarmist concoction meant to justify 660,000 metric tons (MT) worth of expensive rice importation contracts to private importers and cooperatives.”
Alcala, meanwhile, assured that there is enough supply of rice in the country for the rest of the year.
He said, as compared in last year’s dry season cropping of 6.6 million MT, the government is targeting at least 7.6 million MT this year or 15 percent increase in harvest.
He said the total projected cropping for 2011 is 17.46 million MT or even higher, anticipating the increase of production due to favorable weather conditions.
No need to import rice
The Agriculture official also countered the pronouncement of National Food Authority (NFA) administrator Lito Banayo about the country’s need to import additional 300,000 MT of rice.
“Maybe it is his personal opinion. This is not the official statement of the government. We don’t see a need why we have to import more rice,” he said.
He noted that the assessment for additional importation of rice must go through the NFA council. He said he will talk to administrator Banayo in the forthcoming NFA council meeting on May 17 regarding his statement.
Alcala said the recent 860,000 MT of rice imported by the NFA is already sufficient even if weather disturbances occur.
“We have 200,000 MT of reserved rice in times of calamities,” he said.
Alcala said the government discouraged importation of rice as the country targets to be rice self-sufficient in the coming years.
“At this point, farmers are closer to the government. We could see their hardwork in trying to hit our projection to be self-sufficient by 2013. If we continue to import, it will be unfair to our farmers and they may tend to become lazy if we do that. So we have to continue their inspiration,” he said.
The agriculture department is targeting to increase palay production to 21.11 million MT by 2013 and 22.49 million MT by 2016.
Alcala said the government will be able to achieve this through development of irrigation facilities, increase of farmer’s access to high quality seeds by establishing community seed bank, establishment of appropriate farm machinery and equipment and extension in education information including the issues on land conversions.
The government has allotted P141.94 billion for the improvement of rice production and agricultural facilities.
Alcala also encouraged the public to eat alternative staple food such as corn and sweet potato to lessen rice demands.
Alcala also asked displaced overseas Filipino workers to invest in farming noting that the government now has better agricultural policy.
“The Agriculture department now has from farm to table policy. Where the government works hand-in-hand with the farmers from planting up to the selling of their crops,” he said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, for his part, said that planting hybrid rice and irrigating more fields will help avert a rice crisis forecast by Nica.
Pangilinan, chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said high-yield rice varieties can bolster the country’s dwindling rice supply.
“The average yield per hectare is 3.8 metric tons. Inbred and hybrid varieties increase the yield per hectare to as much as 15 metric tons—three times the current yield,” he said.
Planting those varieties in irrigated rice fields can double output further, he said. By irrigating around 3.2 million hectares of rice land that still depend on the rain, farmers will be able to harvest two croppings instead of just one.
He added farmers can also organize cooperatives and associations to avail themselves of loans from the government.
Pangilinan also urged more government spending on research and development for bigger crop yields.
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