Govt brings down price of rice to P18.25/ kg

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — The government has brought back subsidized rice to commercial markets, and will continue selling it there in the next two weeks pending the validation of the list of poor families in Metro Manila who will be able to buy it, Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral said yesterday.

“We are selling again the P18.25 rice in wet markets so poor people can avail of the subsidized rice, because we are still validating and cleaning up the list given by the [local government units],” Cabral said in an interview aboard a ferry.

She said the local government units had identified 700,000 families in Metro Manila that should be given access cards to buy at P18.25 a kilo, but that they still had to validate them.

Only families with a monthly gross income of P5,000 or less were qualified to receive the access cards, she said, adding it would take her agency at least two weeks to validate the list.

The 700,000 listed by the local government units could be bloated, Cabral said.

The National Statistics Office says about 7.1 percent of Metro Manila’s 11-million population—or 187,000—live below the poverty line.

“But we are taking the LGU list at face value. We will just have to find a way to validate by scientific random sampling,” Cabral said.

In other developments:

• The National Food Authority said 2,500 retail outlets in Metro Manila would be authorized to sell subsidized rice at P18.25 to P25 a kilo to an initial 400,000 families

• Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap proposed the creation of an international rice buffer stock to ensure global food security amid surging prices

• The World Bank has called its member countries to contribute to a $755-million emergency fund to help the people most affected by the global food crisis.

Meanwhile, rice futures fell to a two-week low as Standard & Poor’s said farmers may plant more crops in response to record prices, easing concern that global food supplies are lagging behind demand.

The cereal fell for a fifth day, plunging as much as 12.6 percent from a record $25.07 per 100 pounds reached April 24 in Chicago.

Growers might increase production very quickly if they were encouraged by high prices, said Subir Gokarn, Asia-Pacific chief economist at the credit rating company.

“We could very easily see food prices moderating over the next few months,” Gokarn said on a conference call Wednesday.

Rice, the staple food for half the world, costs more than twice as much as a year ago as China, Vietnam and India curbed exports this year.

Price gains stoked social tension and led to hoarding in some countries. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Sam’s Club limited purchases of the grain in US stores.

Farmers in the US, the world’s third-largest exporter, planted 44 percent of their rice crop as of April 27, up from 26 percent a week earlier, the government said.

Thailand announced on Tuesday it was releasing 2.1 million tons of rice from state stockpiles, while Vietnam banned speculators from its market.

“It’s an issue for food security and governments in the world have actively been responding to surging rice prices,” Kazuhiko Saito, strategist at Interes Capital Management Co. in Tokyo, said by telephone Wednesday.

“The price had gone up too much and too fast on speculation.”

The July-delivery contract fell as much as $1.025, or 4.5 percent, to $21.905 per 100 pounds, the lowest since April 15, in after-hours electronic trading on the Chicago Board of Trade and stood at $22.155 at 1:05 p.m. Singapore time.

The price dropped as much as the exchange maximum the previous four days.

Rice prices gained 12.5 percent this month, heading for a ninth straight monthly advance.

Food prices are creating the biggest challenge the UN World Food Program has faced in its 45-year history, “threatening to plunge more than 100 million people on every continent into hunger,” the agency said April 22.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday he would lead a new task force to tackle the situation.

“The crisis was an “unprecedented challenge” that had “multiple effects on the most vulnerable,” Ban said.

“We must feed the hungry,” and “full funding” was needed, he said.