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Opafsam clarifies record on ‘Sona promises’

12:09 AM August 12, 2015

The article “2010-2015 Sona promises: Kept/Not Yet Kept Part 1” (Front Page, 7/23/15) gave the coconut scale infestation (CSI) problem a thumbs-down. But actual scientific data say otherwise. On the initiative of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization (Opafsam) and the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), the pest was identified and an integrated pest management protocol was established. The participation of concerned local government units was also sought. Thus, by December 2014, the CSI “hot spots” had been significantly reduced from 57 to 7.

In fact, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, in a mission report dated May 2015, praised government actions on the CSI problem and echoed our findings, saying: “It was revealed that due to the actions taken by the government, climatic factors, and natural enemies, the pest has subsided and the CSI is in a non-outbreak status.”

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Aside from treating infested areas, the PCA introduced livelihood projects (e.g., intercropping, livestock raising and replanting to rehabilitate the infested areas) to provide affected farmers with alternative sources of income.

On top of this, we are now rehabilitating coconut lands in Regions 6, 7, 8 where Supertyphoon “Yolanda” destroyed 10 million trees. We started by helping farmers convert the “dead” trees into coco lumber. As of June 2015, we have refertilized 25,855 hectares of these lands and replanted some 24,985 hectares with coconuts. We have also planted 52,117 hectares with other crops such as cacao, coffee, banana, fruit trees, pineapple and corn.

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The article also noted changes in the importation policy of the Aquino administration since the National Food Authority (NFA) was placed under the Opafsam. We wish to emphasize that the additional government rice importation in the second half of 2014 was necessary to stabilize rice prices.

In September 2014, government bought 500,000 metric tons of rice at a rate below the world market price, the lowest since 2008, in government-to-government tenders with Thailand and Vietnam. As a result, the NFA was able to increase its market participation five months later, and this brought down the price of well-milled rice from the P41-P44/kilo to P38/kilo (source: Philippine Statistics Authority). The NFA, though, observed that the price of regular-milled commercial rice went down to as low as P31/kilo, while that of the well-milled variety averaged P40/kilo.

From 2010 to 2015, the Aquino administration imported a total of 3,136,502 MT. This is a far cry from the 11,895,112 MT that the Arroyo administration imported from 2004 to 2010.

Indeed we have made changes in our importation process, making it more transparent with the creation of an imports committee and by asking for more active participation from the Department of Finance, the Department of Trade and Industry, the National Economic and Development Authority, and the Bangko Sentral. The reforms led to the rejection of the high price offers in the August 2014 open bidding and of the February 2015 and June 2015 government-to-government tenders. Our rice importation policies are now driven by the people’s needs, not by the needs of those who seek to profit from rice importations.

Those rejections drove down the purchase prices of rice—from the average $562/MT (exclusive of the $50/MT charge for cargo handling) in 2010-2014 to bring $439/MT (inclusive of cargo handling fee) in the last three Opafsam-initiated importations. The government, needless to say, saved hundreds of millions of pesos.

—RACHEL G. GILLEGO, chief of staff, Office of the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization

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TAGS: coconut scale infestation, Food and Agriculture Organization, importation, National Food Authority, Office of the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, Philippine Coconut Authority, rice, State of the Nation Address, supertyphoon ‘yolanda’
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