The lean months for rice in the Philippines traditionally start in July and end in September. Last March, there were signs that the summer rice harvests may not be able to reach the targets set by the National Food Authority (NFA). Palay farm-gate prices had already reached P18 to P20 per kilo, higher than the government’s support price of P17.
Thus the NFA officials – the top central office executives and the regional directors – held an emergency meeting and called for the immediate importation of half of the 500,000 metric tons of rice for the year. This first half of 250,000 tons should be here this month from our traditional suppliers in Thailand and Vietnam. These must be immediately transported to provinces with critical inventory levels.
At the start of the new Duterte administration, Secretary of Agriculture Emmanuel Pinol reiterated the national goal of self-sufficiency in rice. The country was able to achieve this for a brief period during the Marcos administration with a program called “Masagana 99” but it was short-lived in the face of a fast-increasing national population and typhoons that damaged rice crops year after year.
The previous administration of President Aquino was able to develop several new high-yielding rice varieties to replace the old ones traditionally used in Philippine farms. There were flood-resistant rice varieties for planting in areas prone to floods and typhoons. There were drought-resistant varieties for other areas with little water supply.
The Duterte administration has launched a new initiative – giving farmers more irrigation facilities and providing them free water. For this purpose, a P2-billion fund was included in this year’s National Budget to cover the funds usually collected by the National Irrigation Administration from farmers.
But the key to modernizing Philippine agriculture is believed to be farm mechanization and Japan has agreed to help the Philippines in this area with a P1-billion aid program which will initially cover 10,000 hectares.
With these initiatives – new high-yielding rice varieties, free irrigation, and farm mechanization – we should be able to make a good start this year on realizing our age-old dream of rice self-sufficiency for our country.
But not quite yet. We will still have a rice shortage this year, for which the NFA has already called for the immediate importation of 250,000 tons of rice. We are likely to follow up with a second importation of 250,000 tons later this year. But our dream of self-sufficiency is brighter then ever with the initiatives that are now being taken by the Department of Agriculture and Secretary Pinol.