MANILA, JUNE 14, 2006 (STAR) The World Bank’s private investment arm, International Finance Corp. (IFC), is considering investing $2 billion to $5 billion in the Philippines.

Vipul Bhagat, IFC country manager for Philippines and Thailand, said that they were interested in making investments or assist in enticing foreign investors in infrastructure, tourism and information technology industries, especially in business processing outsourcing, electronics and energy.

The IFC is also looking at possible investments in water distribution, medical tourism, the financial sector and the mining sector.

They are also prepared to extend technical assistance grants to help study business prospects for standards of environment, corporate governance, help government agencies on policy formation, help small businesses and to develop the Philippines’ supply chain.

"We hope to make a significant contribution directly, or through supporting the private sector," Bhagat said in a press briefing held in celebration of IFC’s 55th year of operations in the Philippines. IFC has invested $2 billion in the country since 1962.

Javed Hamid, IFC director for East Asia and the Pacific, said the government "was more focused, especially in addressing the fiscal deficit and introducing new taxes." — Ted Torres

Lack of resources hampers RP bid for rice sufficiency By Rocel C. Felix The Philippine Star 06/14/2006

Lack of resources is making it difficult for the country to achieve its goal of being self-sufficient in rice and do away with costly importations by 2010.

"There is a clear roadmap on how to boost rice production and even achieve a surplus by 2009 or 2010, but all that is hinged on the injection of all necessary inputs required to make the plan work," said an official of the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) rice program.

Agriculture Secretary Domingo F. Panganiban announced earlier this year that self-sufficiency in rice is achievable by 2009.

"We are confident that if we are able to properly carry out our rice production program and get the support that we need, we will be able to hit a 99.9 percent self-sufficiency in rice by 2009, and possibly even have surplus production," said Panganiban, adding that increasing rice production is being prioritized to meet a growing population.

He said that for 2006 the DA is increasing its hectarage for hybrid rice planting to half a million hectares from only 400,000 hectares in 2005. Production this year is projected to hit 15.1 million metric tons (MT) from 14.6 million MT in 2005. By 2009, when hybrid rice planting is expanded and yields are higher, production is projected to hit at least 17.1 million MT.

Aside from feeding a population that grows three percent annually, the bid for rice self-sufficiency is also intended to eliminate expensive rice imports that cost government about P28 billion annually.

"The problem with the rice production program is that it will work only when all the needed resources are given.But with the scarce government resources, the timeline set many no longer be realistic," noted the GMA official.

In the next five years, the increase in rice production will require carrying out a hybrid rice seed subsidy and rehabilitating the country’s national and communal irrigation systems.

For 2006 alone, the DA said it needs P4.7 billion to raise irrigated rice areas by 74,000 hectares. By 2009, irrigated rice areas is targeted to increase by 368,000 hectares. Currently, only about 50 percent of irrigated rice areas have functional irrigation systems.

In contrast, the National Irrigation Authority, an agency attached to the DA, was able to haggle from the Department of Budget and Management just P2 billion for this year.

Moreover, the hybrid rice seed subsidy is scheduled for termination in end 2007. Under the five-year hybrid rice seed subsidy program, the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) which is tasked to oversee the GMA rice program, last year, increased its subsidy to farmers such that farmers buy hybrid rice seeds from government at P65 per kilo or P650 per 20-kilogram (kg) bag. Prior to this, the distribution cost to farmers was P1,250 per bag while the real market price is about P2,400 per bag.

"The hybrid rice seed subsidy program will no longer be extended when it expires by end 2007, the government will completely disengage itself from the program and it will be the private sector will have full control of distributing hybrid rice seeds to farmers,"said National Food Authority Administrator Gregorio Tan Jr.

He said it is assumed that a growing number of progressive farmers have adopted the hybrid rice technology and can absorb the cost of buying the seeds at real market prices, along with the costs of other inputs.

A bag of hybrid rice seed is required for one hectare while yield per hectare on the average is about six to seven MT per hectare compared to inbred seeds‚ yield of only three to four MT. In some exceptional cases, the yield reaches as high as 14 to 17 MT per hectare.

A former DA official also pointed out that the "age-old" problem of lack of support infrastructures has yet to be faced squarely by policymakers.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved