MANILA, MARCH 20, 2008
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - The government will be spending at least P3.35 billion for emergency measures to mitigate the effects of the global tightening of rice and other food commodities, Malacañang said yesterday.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita also announced the National Food Authority (NFA) will be fielding “rice marshals” to check on reports of hoarding by some traders taking advantage of the tightening rice supply.

Ermita and Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap told a press conference yesterday that concerned agencies would also hasten and expand the implementation of existing programs to ensure steady food supply in the country.

Ermita said President Arroyo ordered the release of P2.85 billion last week to fund a cross-commodity program where planting would be diversified to reduce dependence on rice.

The funding for the program came from realignments from agencies that have failed to spend their allocations on schedule, he said.

Yap added P1.5 billion from the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) budget for this year will be added to jumpstart related infrastructure projects to include repair or rehabilitation of irrigation systems and farm-to-market roads.

A significant portion of the funding would also be used for the planting of certified rice seeds in an additional 600,000 hectares of rice land during the wet season in the country’s top 10 poorest provinces under the government’s Accelerated Hunger Mitigation Program, he said.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier warned of a global rice shortage and its adverse effects on the country which will result in increase in local prices.

“What’s happening right now is unprecedented,” Yap said. “The last time we had a rice problem was in 1995, (but) the world had enough supply of rice.”

Yap said the current situation is different.

“At that time there was rice. Today, internationally, rice supply is so thin which is why locally, it is pushing the price of domestic palay,” he said.

Yap said the government’s thrust now is to distribute as much as possible certified seeds in the irrigated areas.

He said good seeds could yield only a harvest of three to 3.5 tons of rice per hectare while certified seeds could result in 4.5 tons but hybrid seeds can bring 6.5 tons per hectare.

Despite the dry spell in 2007, Yap said the country’s rice production yielded 16.3 million metric tons (MT), the highest production in the country.

This year, during the dry crop season, the country is projected to harvest about seven million MT, which is higher than the 6.7 million MT in 2006, he said, citing data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS).

Yap said the NFA keeps sufficient supply of rice in its warehouses all over the country to last up to next harvest.

As of March 10, Yap said the government has a total of 415.6 thousand metric tons (TMT) of rice, good for 13 days.

Of this volume, 287.7 TMT are in NFA warehouses, while 54.7 TMT are being unloaded and 75.2 TMT are in transit to different destinations around the country.

Starting this month up to April, the DA is expecting an additional 721.2 TMT of rice to arrive from contracted imports which will be good for 22 more days, Yap said.

Yap also noted that a total of 180,800 metric tons of rice has already arrived in the country and another shipment is expected to arrive within this month. The rice supply is part of the 422,702 MT of rice bidded on Dec. 21, 2007.

He said the DA is expecting the arrival of 454,000 MT of rice which was approved in the Jan. 29, 2008 bidding.

During another bidding last March 11, Yap said a total of 550,000 MT of rice was approved for importation. Its arrival is expected this month up to May.

Ermita and Yap strongly urged the public to avoid wasting food and conserve energy owing to the tight food supply and skyrocketing prices of crude oil in the world market.

Trade Secretary Peter Favila, for his part, assured of adequate food and rice supply in the country.

“There is enough food supply. There is no cause for alarm,” Favila told a separate hastily called news conference.

Favila admitted the price of commercial rice went up by P1 to P2 but the NFA rice remained at P18.25.

“There is enough NFA rice,” Favila stressed.

Favila said the country does not need to import rice immediately.

He said the rice importation is only necessary to support a 90-day buffer stock in preparation for the lean months of July to September, or during the rainy season.

He said the April harvest will take care of the demand and will ensure the normal level of inventory.

Yap, on the other hand, urged the public to practice rice conservation.

He pointed out the study made by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology which showed that consumers waste some 25,000 sacks of rice worth some P30 million daily.

According to the study, rice wastage or spoilage is commonly observed on used plates, food for pets and other domesticated animals, used pots and pans and cooking utensils, and other raw or cooked food products that family members fail to eat.

Aside from helping lessen the government’s rice importation, the studies reveal that the total daily rice wastage, if conserved, could instead feed some 3.4 million people through the various government feeding programs. - With Elisa Osorio

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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