Gov’t eyes 1.5M tons of rice imports in early ’16
The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) is seeking the President’s go-ahead to import up to 1.5 million metric tons of rice in the first quarter of 2016, or triple the volume of the original program, to ensure enough supply and keep prices stable amid the prolonged drought due to the El Niño weather phenomenon.
Neda Director General and Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan told reporters on Monday night that this intervention formed part of the proposed Roadmap to Address the Impact of El Niño or “Rain,” which is aimed at mitigating the dry spell’s effects on food supply, ensuring stability of food prices and providing assistance to farmers and households in adversely affected areas.
Last week, Neda submitted to President Aquino a memo listing down the proposed interventions to mitigate the effects of El Niño. Balisacan said he was hoping to present the roadmap to the President this week.
According to Balisacan, the government had programmed to import 500,000 metric tons of rice during the first quarter of next year, but Neda is proposing to import an additional one million metric tons.
“We might need to import another one million [metric tons of rice] to maintain a 45-day buffer stock because if we don’t, the inventory would fall drastically. As you have seen in 2013 and 2014 when the inventory dropped sharply, prices also rose,” Balisacan explained.
The Neda chief added that the additional rice importation was necessary as the impact of the ongoing El Niño on domestic rice production was expected to match the damage caused by drought in 1997 to 1998.
“During that period, agricultural production shrunk quite significantly. In 1998 alone, rice production declined by almost 25 percent mainly as a result of El Niño,” he noted.
The National Food Authority (NFA) Council usually decides on rice importation volumes, but Balisacan said the President’s approval also have to be sought as increasing the imports would cost the national government billions of pesos more.
The government might have to directly import the additional rice or source from half of the maximum access volume to be brought in by the private sector, he added.
“The most important thing is to make sure we have adequate [rice] supply and timely importation is crucial because we want to avoid domestic prices shooting up while world prices are relatively stable. We want to make sure that supply is there when we need it the most,” Balisacan said.
The Neda chief said the government may have to allot up to P19.2 billion for various programs and projects that would help mitigate the effects of El Niño starting this year.
Balisacan said P7.5 billion may have to be disbursed before the year ends, while the rest would have to be allotted for the first half of next year as El Niño is expected to last until June and could peak between December this year and February 2016.
Australian climate experts have noted that the sea surface in the Pacific Ocean continued to heat up, further entrenching El Niño as expected.
In its latest fortnightly update released yesterday, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said that based on the various international climate models, the mean forecast showed that the strong El Niño might start weakening by January but lasting until June 2016.
“Warm anomalies [higher that normal temperatures] persist along the equator from the South American coastline to just west of the [International] Date Line,” it said. “Warm anomalies also remain across much of the Pacific Ocean in the northern hemisphere between the equatorial Date Line and northeast, and across far northern latitudes.”
The Australian agency observed that, compared to two weeks ago, sea surface temperature anomalies have increased along the equator and the northeast of the Pacific Basin while cool anomalies have emerged across much of the Indonesian archipelago, extending in an arc to Australia’s northeast and into the tropics of the South Pacific.
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