Friday, 11 April 2008

700,000 more tons of rice coming; price hike plan deferred

By MARVYN N. BENANING & GENALYN D. KABILING
The Manila Bulletin
http://www.mb.com.ph/MAIN20080411121582.html

The proposed increase in the price of rice sold by the National Food Authority (NFA) has been put "in abeyance" pending consultations, Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said yesterday as the government announced that 700,000 metric tons more of imported rice are coming before the traditional lean months from July to September.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap and National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Jessup Navarro said that with this additional shipment, there will be ample supply of the staple for the entire market.

The importations, Yap and Navarro said, are on top of the current national inventories of 1.94 million metric tons — which are almost 30 percent higher than the 1.52 million MT for the same period last year – and the summer harvest projected at 7.1 million metric tons, which should come in late this month or weeks later.

These figures were bared by officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and NFA, along with executives of the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) Rice Program, during DA’s "Open House" with senators and representatives this week at the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) convention hall in Quezon City .

Among the legislators present were Sen. Loren Legarda and Rep. Abraham Kahlil Mitra, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.

GMA Rice National Coordinator Frisco Malabanan pointed out that this year’s production targets for the summer harvests remain on track.

To attain rice production targets this year, Malabanan said, the GMA Rice Program will carry out the following intervention measures:

1. Provision of hybrid seeds for 317,169 hectares and certified seeds for 1.361 million hectares.

2. Planting of certified seeds during the wet season in an additional 600,000 hectares of rainfed-lowland and low-yielding irrigated areas.

3. Restoration and construction of irrigation facilities for 66,000 hectares, which will be planted with hybrid and inbred certified seeds.

4. Provision of 700 units of post-harvest drying facilities.

5. Iinsertion of a third cropping season for 92,000 to 100,000 hectares of fully irrigated areas, using hybrid and certified seeds under the Quick Turnaround (QTA) Program.

Meanwhile, the proposed increase in the price of rice sold by the NFA has been put "in abeyance" pending consultations, Press Secretary Bunye said.

NFA rice is now being sold at PHP18.25 per kilo, compared to the PHP24 per kilo and above for commercial rice, resulting in long lines of people buying the cheap NFA rice. Secretary Bunye would not say how much the government is willing to incur in losses due to the rice subsidy.

Malacañang is reportedly looking to cut rice supplies to public markets to allow parishes to distribute the rice directly to the poor.

Secretary Bunye said NFA Administrator Navarro told him that the proposal to increase the price of NFA rice is still under study. News reports have quoted Navarro as saying that the price of NFA rice would definitely go up although the actual increase has yet to be determined.

"He said in effect that his statement has been taken out of context," Bunye said. "He said this is still under study and a lot of consultations will have to be made before any increase is actually implemented."

Bunye said government agencies involved in solving the rice crisis will meet to determine the impact of any possible increase in the price of NFA rice and whether such increase should indeed be effected with the NFA’s ballooning deficit.

Agriculture Secretary Yap said that the government has lost at least PHP40 billion just to keep the price of NFA rice low. "I think what NFA is doing now is consulting with other agencies. We would like to really determine the impact of any possible increase in the price of NFA rice. We have to get inputs from other agencies because they will know the full impact of any adjustments in rice prices," Bunye said. (with a report by David Cagahastian)

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