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Philippines has rice stocks good to last for 75 days —DA chief

The Department of Agriculture said Saturday the Philippines has rice stocks sufficient for the requirements of the entire country in time for the enhanced community quarantine in Luzon to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“Sapat po ang ating supply ng bigas para sa Metro Manila at sa buong bansa. Nitong buwan ng Marso, mayroon po tayong rice inventory good for 75 days,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said in a statement.

Dar noted that the country has a total rice inventory of 2.661 million metric tons (MT), inclusive of commercial, household and government stocks.

For her part, National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Judy Carol Dansal said the NFA has a current inventory of 9.636 million bags or 481,800 MT, equivalent to 14 days' requirement of the country.

Rice stocks, the NFA  said, include those bought from farmers during the last quarter of 2019.

NFA rice is sold at P25 per kilogram to accredited retailers, institutions, local government units and government agencies.

On the other hand, Dar said, “Currently, our priority is to serve the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the LGUs so they could include in food packs for their respective distribution.”

For NFA's part, it continues to buy palay from farmers for buffer stocking.

For January and February 2020, it bought a total of 1,734,230 bags or 86,711 MT from individual farmers, cooperatives and associations.

For the entire year, it targets to buy 15.44 million bags, using its regular P7-billion budget, according to Dansal.

Meanwhile, Dar said: "We are proposing to augment the NFA's palay procurement fund by another P7 billion, as part of our proposed P31-billion food resiliency program, dubbed as Ahon Lahat, Pagkain Sapat or ALPAS Kontra COVID-19, which we also call 'Plant, Plant, Plant Program or Agri 4Ps.'"

“In all, we have enough food for the next two months and we are enhancing other measures to ensure food security until the end of the year” he added.

To achieve this, the Agriculture chief said that strong cooperation of all provincial governors, city and municipal mayors, and barangay leaders in ensuring the unhampered movement of agricultural products and farm and fishery inputs, and exempting farmers, fishers, and workers in the entire food value chain and logistics from curfew.

"We thus urge our farmers and fishers to continue their farming and fishing activities, while observing social distancing measures, and  remaining healthy and physically fit," Dar said.

He also urged them to report any problems regarding their free movement and transport of products to the markets, so these could be immediately addressed by concerned LGUs, the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines, who man the checkpoints. —Ted Cordero/LBG/KG, GMA News