PHL to import more rice in preparation for El Nino peak

By Leslie D. Venzon

MANILA, Sept. 30 (PNA) — The Philippines will likely import more rice to beef up buffer stocks and ensure price stability amid the prospect of a severe El Nino reducing agricultural output.

Citing the weather bureau, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said the drought impact of the El Nino the country is experiencing which will last until mid-2016 is expected to be as intense to those in 1997 to 1998.

Balisacan recalled that the combination effects of the 1997 El Nino phenomenon and the Asian financial crisis contributed to the sharp 23-percent decrease in the country’s agricultural output and increases in domestic prices, particularly for food.

“We have learned quite a lot from the previous El Nino phenomenon. Even as this early, we are prepositioning our level of imports and already decided to import more. (We have) already provisioned importation, import volumes for first two quarters of next year,” he said on the sidelines of Philippine economic briefing on Wednesday.

Balisacan, also the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director-general, noted that rice imports will offset domestic shortfalls in rice production.

“We learned our lessons well that when the supplies are compromised, prices can shoot up as they did in 2013-2014. We don’t want that thing to happen again,” he said.

The NEDA chief said concerned government agencies like the Department of Energy, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Health are working to deal with the weather phenomenon’s impacts on food, prices, energy and the welfare of farmers and poor consumers.

“When El Nino peaks in December to February, where are these provinces, cities and municipalities that will be affected and what kind of assistance that you can provide for those badly affected,” he said.

Apart from importing grains, Balisacan said the country is putting up a system that allows close monitoring of movement of prices.

“For example in the case of DPWH, we are working on the possibility of mobilizing cash-for-work program, or emergency program so that when one will not be able to plant, not be able to raise incomes from the usual production activities, (he) can perhaps be employed in emergency projects like farm-to-market-road,” he said. (PNA)