RP may import 1-M tons of rice next year

September 23, 2010 10:26 am 

By Lilybeth G. Ison

MANILA, Sept. 22 — With the Department of Agriculture (DA) admitting the farm sector has failed to recover this year from the negative output for 2009 due to severe damages inflicted by tropical storms "Ondoy" and "Pepeng," the Philippines may force to import about one million tons of rice for 2011.

National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Angelito Banayo, at the sidelines of the DA budget hearing by the committee on appropriations of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, however, said the 2011 imports is well below record imports of 2.45 million tons this year.

The DA said previous events last year and this year will just even out, hence growth could be flat in 2011.

Bad weather conditions brought down second quarter farm production by 2.18 percent and by 2.88 percent in the first quarter of the year.

"There's a long way for us to catch up, considering that output last year was negative. There could be a chance for positive growth but most likely it will be flat," said Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS) Director Romeo Recide.

Banayo also warned of a looming shortage of NFA rice for the poor should the Aquino administration fail to release the remaining P6 billion budget of the agency.

"Let me tell you, we’re close to putting up the shutters on our retail operations. If the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) will not release our remaining budget this year, we will have to close Batanes, Aurora, Masbate, Catanduanes, the entire CAR (Cordillera Administrative Region), Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Bohol, Cebu, all of Regions 8 and 9. Even Coron and Busuanga will be closed for selling rice," he said.

Of the NFA’s total allocation of P8 billion for 2010, Banayo said only P2 billion had been released.

"Since July up to the present, not a single centavo has been released," he said.

According to him, the NFA has been losing money from selling cheap rice at prices below the purchase price.

"We cannot do anything about that. It is our mandate to ensure there is food for the poor, to provide a way for poor people to have something decent on their table," he said.

Official documents show that NFA losses had ballooned to P177 billion of which P54 billion consisted of suppliers’ credit.

Banayo was also anxious of the prospects of the proposed 2011 budget based on a restructured NFA.

"We cannot work on a zero budget as what is being proposed by the budget department based on their version of a restructuring program for the NFA. I worry about provinces like Occidental Mindoro where 30 percent of palay produced is being bought by the NFA," he said.

The DBM has slashed to P37.7 billion the proposed P58 billion budget requested by the agriculture department.

Anakpawis party-list Rep. Rafael Mariano earlier warned that the proposed budget of the DA for 2011 "will further worsen the rice crisis and food insecurity in the country."

"Unscrupulous rice traders operating the domestic rice cartel will have a heyday with NFA’s zero budget and intervention in the market through unjust rice pricing and manipulation," he said. (PNA)

DCT/LGI

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