Philippines Agriculture Chief Admits there is a 'Problem'

MANILA, Philippines-- After much prodding at the Senate hearing on the food crisis Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap admitted that there was a problem in the country’s rice supply.

Yap initially tried to evade questions from Senator Manuel Roxas II about the crisis, preferring to call the situation a “challenge” rather than a “problem.”

But Roxas was undeterred as he asked Yap what his definition of a problem was and what situation would the agriculture chief consider a problem.

The senator said recognizing this would first step in curing the “fever” of food insecurity.

Yap eventually admitted that there was a problem after Roxas argued that there was no point in denying its existence because of the volatile rice prices in the market, now averaging at P30 from the previous P21, which the senator said was the cost when he was trade secretary.

Yap said that the rice problem has two facets -- the incessant increase of prices and rice production shortage.

But despite the present situation, Yap said the country would meet “rice sufficiency” by the end of 2010 where the 20 million metric tons (MT) would be enough to feed the projected population of 94 million Filipinos, with the demand for palay (unmilled rice) hitting about 90.8 million MT.

Yap disclosed that only 16.3 million MT of palay were produced last year, or 89 percent close to complete sufficiency.

“For the first time, inamin ng DAR na may production problem tayo, na kulang talaga ang ating produksyan ng bigas [the DAR admitted that we have a production problem, that we really produce little],” Roxas later told reporters.

“In fact, in the next three years, we have to produce an additional five [million] MT of palay. At present, we only produce three million MT of rice. In the next three years, in order to feed ourselves, aside from the 2 million MT of rice, we have to produce an additional 3 million MT of rice,” he said.

Asked on what the government has done to achieve self-sufficiency, Yap said that, in the immediate, the DA would allocate heavily on the right fertilizers and rice hybrid to ensure that the 2.5 million hectares to be planted for this wet season could yield the potential 17 million MT of rice.

For this year, the DA set aside one billion for fertilizer use, while local government units are monetizing their internal revenue allotment for farmer support, said Yap. In the long-run, Yap said that the government should allocate on irrigation infrastructures if it wanted to attain self-sufficiency.

Senator Juan Ponce Enrile added that instead of allocating P6 billion for the rice importation alone, the government should strengthen the local rice production.

Yap agreed, saying that only P26 billion will be used for farmer support.

Also during the hearing, Senator Rodolfo Biazon said the DA should set its facts straight as it used different government data to make its point. He interjected and asked Yap the real production of milled rice.

He said that, at present, about 9 MT of milled rice were produced, while the country needs 12 MT to achieve rice sufficiency. “Let’s not talk about palay. Let’s talk about rice,” Biazon said, apparently confused on the data given by the DA.

But Yap said that the use of various data would give a better picture of the depth of rice shortage.

John Alliage Morales, Contributor

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