July 9, 2004  (STAR) By Rocel C. Felix  -  The Philippines, close to achieving self-sufficiency in rice, has started exporting high-end rice varieties.

A trial shipment of about 10 metric tons (MT) so far this year found its way into supermarket shelves of test markets such as Dubai and Switzerland. This volume is expected to increase as exporters are setting their sights on potentially-rich niche markets in Hong Kong, the US and the Middle East.

The volume exported consisted of fancy and premium rice varieties which command premium prices of about $350 per MT in the overseas market, but if marketed locally, would be prohibitive for ordinary consumers.

Aside from high-end rice varieties, the Philippines is also targeting to export hybrid rice which could be competitive with Thailandís long-grained, fragrant jasmine rice and Japanís japonica rice.

National Food Authority (NFA) administrator and concurrent Agriculture Undersecretary Arthur Yap said that while the volume exported was small, it was a fruitful exercise intended to train rice farmers to envision prospects outside of the domestic market.

"The initial exports should teach farmers a thing or two about exportation. Government could help equip our farmers the necessary tool to increase their capability to export rice on their own, especially when the country achieves sufficiency in rice. They need not worry about depressed prices because there is an export market that will stabilize local prices," Yap explained .

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is targeting a 97 to 100 percent self-sufficiency in rice this year by expanding the hectarage devoted to hybrid rice-farming which can substantially increase yield per hectare.

Once the country becomes self-sufficient and attains surplus production, Yap said farmers could take advantage of the growing global demand for fancy and premium rice varieties, as well as hybrid rice varieties.

Francisco Malabanan, rice program director of the DA said the potential markets for hybrid rice include Malaysia and Japan.

On the other hand, Henry Lim Bon Liong, chairman of pioneering hybrid rice seed producer SL Agritech Corp. said the country could also tap Indonesia as a possible importer of hybrid rice seeds.

He noted that the Philippines can start exporting to these countries once the country achieves self-sufficiency in rice and adequately address domestic requirements.

"Indonesiaís population is more than twice that of the Philippines. Itís buying a lot of rice from Vietnam. They will be willing to buy seeds from us. Malaysia is also planting rice, but they lack the labor. Theyíll be using more seeds in farms as they mechanize," Lim said in previous interviews.

Limís company produces the SL-8 hybrid rice variety which was popularized as Gloria Rice. Its yield is 10 MT per hectare, higher than the average three MT per hectare using traditional varieties, and even higher than the certified seeds previously promoted by the DA which yields four to six MT per hectare.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved