1.5M metric tons of rice imports eyed in 2016 amid El Niño
MANILA, Philippines — The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) is seeking President Aquino’s go-ahead to import up to 1.5 million metric tons of rice in the first quarter of 2016 or triple the volume of the original program to ensure enough supply and keep prices stable amid the prolonged drought due to El Niño.
NEDA Director-General and Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan told reporters on Monday night that this intervention would form part of the proposed Roadmap to Address the Impact of El Niño or “Rain,” which was aimed at mitigating the dry spell’s impact on food supply, ensuring stability of food prices, and providing assistance to farmers and households in adversely affected areas.
Last week, NEDA submitted to President Aquino a memo listing down the proposed interventions to mitigate the effects of El Niño. Balisacan is hoping to present the roadmap to the President this week.
Balisacan said the government has programmed to import 500,000 metric tons of rice during the first quarter of next year, but NEDA has seen the need to import an additional one million metric tons.
“We might need to increase, import another one million [metric tons of rice] to maintain a 45-day buffer stock, because if we don’t, the inventory would fall drastically. As you have seen in 2013 and 2014 when the inventory dropped sharply, prices also rose,” Balisacan explained.
The NEDA chief said the country should import more rice as the impact of the ongoing El Niño on domestic rice production would likely match the damage caused by drought in 1997 to 1998.
“During that period, agricultural production shrunk quite significantly. In 1998 alone, rice production declined by almost 25 percent mainly as a result of El Niño,” he noted.
The National Food Authority or NFA Council usually decides on rice importation volumes, but Balisacan said the President’s approval should be sought as increasing the imports would cost the national government billions of pesos more.
“The government may have to directly import the additional rice or may source from half of the maximum access volume to be brought in by the private sector,” he added.
“The most important thing is to make sure we have adequate [rice] supply, and timely importation is crucial, because we want to avoid domestic prices shooting up while world prices are relatively stable. We want to make sure that supply is there when we need it the most,” Balisacan said.
The NEDA chief said the government may have to allot up to P19.2 billion to be spent on various programs and projects that would help mitigate the effects of El Niño starting this year.
Balisacan said P7.5 billion might have to be disbursed before the end of the year, while the rest would have to be allotted for the first half of next year, as El Niño has been projected to last until June 2016 and could peak between December and February. SFM
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