[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo goes scuba diving in the clear waters off Bohol’s Balicasag Island last Tuesday.]

MANILA, May 22, 2008 (STAR) President Arroyo called yesterday for a concerted effort among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to avert a prolonged food crisis in the region.

In her speech at the 16th ASEAN Farmer’s Week celebration at the Convention Hall of the Grand Caprice Hotel in Cagayan de Oro, Mrs. Arroyo also defended the role of the National Food Authority (NFA) in intervening in the rice market in the country.

She pointed out the region can tap the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which is located in the Philippines, “to explore ways of meeting the needs for rice in the Philippines and that of other rice-producing countries in ASEAN.”

The cooperative effort, the President said, can span a “complete range, from ensuring that farmers are aware of and can use the latest technique in crop establishment to making sure that most of safety nets are in place.”

Mrs. Arroyo said the Philippines remains “deeply committed to be a force for good and force for food security in the... ASEAN.”

“We must work together, in the Philippines and in ASEAN, to improve agronomic practices, to enhance the ability to utilize rice varieties more effectively and also to promote rice breeding because many want to plant hybrid rice but where will they get it, so rice breeding is very important and of course the subject matter of ASEAN building training capacity,” she said.

“We realize that we must spend considerable time as we are doing today and in the months ahead not just to solve the situation now as an individual country but dedicate ourselves to the regional and global discussions on what must be done by emerging nations that is ASEAN on the vital issue of food security,” she said.

She said the government has yet to determine the long-term plan for the NFA “but it would be a mistake to shift all of our attention to long-term policy against near-term effort to stabilize the situation and put food on the table of our people.”

Some experts have been calling for the abolition of the NFA as it supposedly distorts rice market forces.

“Definitely there is still a role for NFA. And because of the hard work of our farmers, for now we have the supply issue well in hand,” she said.

She said the Philippines is more in a position to address the global problem of rice supply due to its sound rice management practices.

She said the Philippines had “seen” the rice supply problem coming and has been “heading it off for some time now.”

The President pointed out the Philippines’ rice management practices are based on three fundamental needs: supply, distribution and going against unscrupulous rice traders. – Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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