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Despite palay losses due to ‘Pedring,’ no need for imports

opinion / Latest Opinion
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Despite palay losses due to ‘Pedring,’ no need for imports

/ 12:30 AM October 13, 2011

Let’s aim for the stars in setting our rice production goals! Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala need not be faulted for releasing sketchy estimates of palay losses a day after Typhoon “Pedring” exited Central Luzon. A Department of Agriculture update has placed the damage at 760,000 metric tons. The same period, two years ago in 2009, in the wake of Tropical Storm “Ondoy” and Typhoon “Pepeng” palay losses reached 1.3 million MT. The initial estimate was 285,000 MT.

Should Pedring’s palay losses reach 1.3 million MT, the stock by the end of the year, 2.5 million MT, would be adequate until the end of first quarter next year, the start of summer harvests. Statistics show that we would have 1.64 million MT by yearend even if we dispensed with the 860,000 MT importation due to a million-ton hike in first semester 2011 palay output. More rice imports beyond the government-approved level (in 2011) are unnecessary.

Should Secretary Alcala, despite the heartbreaking setback and undeserved criticism, pursue a rice self-sufficiency program, an antidote to over-importation and overpricing? Aberrations in the international grains market, and political developments in major producing nations, are beyond our government’s clout. The April-May 2008 rice crisis—when prices skyrocketed to $1,000 a ton, unaffordable to us—was market-induced and not triggered  by production shortages. In India, exports of non-basmati rice were banned and were resumed only lately. Vietnam suspended rice exports from March to mid-May 2008 due to fears of a drop in output arising from a severe cold front in January. When the official reports came, output was not affected, the harvest was merely delayed, and prices more than halved, but were not reflected in the previous NFA procurement price.

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Thailand will implement a rice mortgage scheme that effectively buys farmers’ produce at the peso equivalent of P21/kg, up from P12/kg last July 2011, against NFA’s P17/kg. Already, benchmark prices have increased by 20 percent from March levels when NFA imports were sealed. Rice traders’ prediction that Thai prices may reach the $700-$850 level remains to be seen, so is Thailand’s ability to sustain the program. Obviously, such moves by these nations were motivated to protect their own interest! Can we afford another round of sustained price hikes based on market forces and political factors beyond our control? Should Filipino farmers instead benefit from high international prices with government reducing imports’ role for buffer stock and not for consumption?

Should nature’s rage deny us our dream of a greatly reduced importation? Should government create a separate special typhoon palay reserve kept in silos for extended storage life? Ironically, erratic, unforgiving climate, a major factor that sets back our staple program, is a justification for increased production.

—MANUEL Q. BONDAD,

manuelbondad@yahoo.com

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TAGS: agriculture, disasters, letters, Rice production, typhoons
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