MANILA, Philippines -- Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap has allayed fears of a looming food crisis, saying that Filipinos can expect adequate supply of rice and other commodities this year.
Yap admitted, however, that one area of concern is the spike in prices of rice and other commodities, arising from spiraling prices in the world market.
"I do not see a food crisis, which means an absence of food or rationing. I do not see that on the basis of the food production that has been programmed," he said.
With regards to rice, for instance, Yap said the Department of Agriculture is optimistic of hitting a record production target of 17.33 million metric tons, equivalent to a national self-sufficiency level of 92 percent.
He explained that this can be met, given field reports that the rice-planting schedules and area coverage for the summer crop are on track, while the onset of the La Niña phenomenon is seen to benefit farmers tilling over a million hectares of rain-fed areas.
Due to expected favorable weather, Yap said that his department expects total rice harvests to exceed seven million tons in the first semester, or higher than last year's output of 6.8 million tons.
Further, the Philippines has already secured a commitment from Vietnam, one of the world's largest rice exporters, to sell some one million tons of rice to help fill the Philippines' national requirement.
Meanwhile, Yap explained that price increases are likely triggered by factors such as swelling demand by fast-growing economies and harvest slumps triggered by climate change.
"Demand is growing but supply is not catching up that much because of climate change," he said.
Yap explained that there is a "price gap" in the country, which is now being corrected with these price increases.
"Globally, there is a constriction in supply, which is driving up the prices of local grains. With this situation, the Philippines, one of the world's biggest rice importers, will be affected and would have to consequently pay the correct price for the staple," he said.
In an earlier briefing, an executive of the Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute said that rice harvests have already reached a "plateau" in many countries, leading to nearly a 100 percent jump in global rice prices to some $400 per ton over the past five years.
IRRI Social Sciences Division chief Randy Barker had traced the price spike to production slowdowns; climate changes; rising fertilizer and diesel prices; and over-exploitation of water resources, among others.
One way to address these pricing concerns, Yap said, is for the government to fast-track the establishment of more drop-off points in urban markets along with village food terminals, to guarantee access of ordinary consumers to quality but more affordable goods.