Philippines aims for 92% self-sufficiency in rice in 2008

 

The Philippines is targeting 92 per cent self-sufficiency in rice this year and 98 per cent by 2010, an agricultural spokesman said on Saturday.

 

The statement comes after President Gloria Arroyo announced an ambitious multi-billion-peso plan to overhaul the country's agricultural sector to cope with the rising world price of food, particularly rice, the national diet staple.

 

This will be accomplished by restoring irrigation and post-harvest facilities, said Rex Estoperez, spokesman of the National Food Authority, the agency tasked with importing rice and monitoring the rice market.

 

He did not say how self-sufficient the Philippines was in rice but experts have previously estimated it at between 85 to 90 per cent.

 

Speaking in an interview with ABS-CBN television, Estoperez said Arroyo had been upgrading the agriculture sector even earlier but the increase in population and the global rise in food prices had forced the government to step up its work.

 

He said that even with increased rice production, the country would still need to import, adding that it was still more expensive to produce rice in an archipelagic country like the Philippines compared with those with large land masses like Thailand and Vietnam.

 

The government has previously announced plans to import 1.5 million tonnes of the staple cereal this year and has the capacity to import up to 2.7 million tonnes if needed.

 

Arroyo on Friday unveiled a plan to increase food production through increased spending on fertiliser, irrigation and infrastructure, education and research, credits for farmers, and distribution of higher- yielding seeds.

 

She did not give a total for how much would be spent and even local newspapers gave differing figures ranging from Php36.5 billion ($874 million; Dh3.2 billion) to Php48.7 billion.

 

Arroyo had said some of the funds would come from government financial institutions, foreign aid and multilateral institutions such as the Asian Development Bank.

 

She said she hoped spending for these programmes would not jeopardise her target of balancing the budget this year.

 

"We are close to balancing the budget. We will try to balance the budget even with all the expenditures we will have to make," she said.

 

The country is one of the world's biggest importers of rice and not even increases in local production have been able to meet the demand of the growing 90-million-strong population.

 

In 2007 Manila imported 1.871 million tonnes of rice, mostly from Vietnam with a little from Thailand. (AFP)

 
 
 
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