Rice supply shortage averted

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — PRESIDENT Arroyo yesterday said the price of rice could go up slightly as result of a growing demand for the staple grain from Middle East and African nations.

Speaking at the inauguration of her flagship expressway, Mrs. Arroyo vowed to ensure a steady supply of the grain following the move of the National Food Authority to bring in 335,500 metric tons of rice.

“There were fears of a possible rice shortage in the world and thus also a possible rice shortage here. The price [of rice] could go up slightly but there would be no shortage,” President Arroyo said.

Rising demand for rice from Middle East and African nations sent the world price of the commodity rising by 50 percent from last month’s price level.

Mrs. Arroyo ordered the National Food Authority to “put its house in order” and prosecute officials who connive with rice traders to divert cheap NFA rice—meant for poor consumers—to the commercial market.

The forthcoming rice shipment, which brings total import so far to 1.2 million tons, will cost the agency P9.976 billion, Administrator Jessup Navarro said.

Vietnamese traders will supply 185,000 tons while other Asian traders will supply the rest, Navarro said.

The food agency will also bring in another 300,000 tons of rice next month under a program allowing farmers to import the staple grain.

Total rice imports this year may reach 2.1 million tons, according to the target set by the Department of Agriculture.

Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila said his department will monitor the price movement of rice and other essential commodities in the local market.

Earlier, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said there is no cause for concern over reports of rice shortage in the country.

Yap said the government has secured a commitment from the government of Vietnam for the supply of rice.

Yap expressed confidence that the 2008 rice production could meet the target of 17.33 million MT, equivalent to a 92-percent national sufficiency level.

Palay planting schedules were on track while rains brought on by the La Niña phenomenon would benefit farmers in over a million hectares of land, Yap said.