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From rice importer to exporter? PHL enjoying bumper palay harvests

Long one of the world's leading importers of rice, the Philippines is now entertaining thoughts of becoming an exporter, as the government forecasts rice self-sufficiency by 2013. Relatively good weather and public investment in machinery and other support for rice farmers are being credited for bumper harvests in the first half of 2012. Palay production in the first six months is expected at 7.875 million metric tons, indicating the country is on the way toward self-sufficiency, Malacañang and the Department of Agriculture have both indicated.   “According to (DA Secretary) Proceso Alcala, we no longer need to import rice because we will become rice self-sufficient by then,” President Benigno Aquino III said on Thursday in a speech at the Makina-Saka 2012, an agriculture trade event on farm mechanization at the World Trade Center in Pasay City.   “In 2013, if we are fortunate to not be hit hard by typhoons, it looks like we won’t just be self-sufficient, we will also be the ones to export rice,” he added. Imported rice as buffer vs typhoon disruption   Unlike in the past when the country recorded a 1.3-million-metric-ton (MT) shortage and imported 2.47 million MT, the government last year imported only 850,000 MT and only 500,000 MT this year, Aquino noted.   The country’s palay production for the year’s first semester may reduce rice imports to 100,000  MT in 2013 and could make the Philippines self-sufficient in rice, said the DA, which pointed out that the rice imports would serve as a buffer in case storms disrupt rice supply. “The problem is, sometimes there will be heavy rain, or the winds will blow hard, and rice production will be affected,” Padrinao said. But if there won’t be bad weather, and good conditions will prevail, the high hopes for rice production will come true, he said. “If we compare rice production to the same quarter last year, it looks like it will be better this year,” BAS Cereal Statistics Division chief Mario Padrinao said in a phone interview with GMA News Online.   “It looks like rice production will exceed compared to April 2012 forecast,” Padrinao said. Last year, the Philippines produced 16.68 million MT according to BAS data while importing only 850,000 MT.   First quarter rice production this year 3.99 million MT has exceeded the midpoint of last year’s first semester output of 7.57 million MT. For all of 2012, the rice output target is 18.4 million MT.  "The January-June 2012 palay production may reach 7.84 million MT, 3.4 percent higher than last year's level of 7.58 million MT. Harvest area may expand to 2.04 million hectares, or by 2.4% from last year's record of 1.99 million hectares. Yield per hectare may improve from 3.80 MT in 2011 to 3.84 MT this year," the DA said on its website. The DA has aimed for a 20.04 million rice harvest in 2013.   Record-breaking harvest   Alcala said the country expects another record-breaking harvest brought about by intervention measures implemented by the department to prop up rice production.   “We will be able to break the record harvest in the first semester last year,” he said. Alcala noted that standing crops in the second quarter standing looks promising and would compensate for the previous quarter’s slight dip in output.   Palay output for the second quarter will come from the major palay-producing provinces such as Cagayan and Central Luzon.   Agriculture Assistant Secretary and Rice Program director Dante Delima attributed the expected robust output to good weather conditions this year.   Alcala presented the DA’s Food Staples Sufficiency Policy to Aquino during the Makina Saka, noting that the country is on schedule to attaining rice self-sufficiency by 2013.   Through the Food Staples Sufficiency Program (FSSP), the country would also no longer need to import corn, cassava and other fruits and vegetables in the coming years, the President said.   To ensure the success of the program, he said government allotted P1 billion for the procurement of at least 2,300 units of postharvest machinery and other equipment in 2011.   This year, some P2.6 billion was allotted to the buy 7,000 agricultural machines that would be distributed to farmers’ groups and local government units.   Aquino said government would invest in rehabilitation and repair of irrigation systems and push for stronger agricultural research and development. He also urged the private sector to continue helping the agriculture sector. The Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) lauds the national government's focus on rice production. “We are really excited that the Department of Agriculture is investing a huge proportion of their budget into irrigation infrastructure and want to congratulate them on this important decision,” said Tolentino. “Better irrigation infrastructure is critical to increasing rice productivity in the country as reliable irrigation allows farmers to grow more crops every year.” — With Gian Geronimo/VS/HS/ELR, GMA News