By Leslie D. Venzon
MANILA, Dec. 17 (PNA) — The government will reduce by roughly one-fourth its planned additional volume of rice imports for the first semester of 2016 meant to boost buffer stocks and keep local prices stable amid the prolonged drought due to El Niño.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said the country may need to import only an additional 300,000 to 400,000 metric tons (MT) of rice, much lower compared to earlier estimate of 1.3 million MT.
“The expected (rice) production for the first quarter of next year and harvests for this year would be higher than was initially estimated… We don’t feel that we need to import much now,” he said in a press briefing.
Balisacan said the government is also undertaking a roadmap to address the impacts of El Niño, part of which is increasing rice production in drought-affected areas where there are inadequate supply.
“With those interventions, we would expect to generate 200,000 to 300,000 metric tons (of rice) so that in effect, reduce substantially the need to import,” he added.
The country has already an approved provision of 500,000 MT of rice for the first quarter, bringing total imports to about 900,000 MT next year.
Balisacan, who is also National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director general, bared that President Benigno S. Aquino III last week approved a Php19-billion budget to deal with the negative impacts of El Niño.
The NEDA chief identified El Niño-spawned dry spell among the risks on missing next year’s 7-percent economic growth target.
Citing the weather bureau, Balisacan said the weather phenomenon was expected to peak in March to May next year.
“We are already programming. We are already taking the worst assumption or worst (case) scenario,” he added. (PNA)