MANILA - The Philippines is unlikely to become self-sufficient in rice production, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday, appearing to contradict his agriculture minister who had set a 2020 target to produce enough rice to meet the country's needs.
The Southeast Asian country is a frequent buyer of rice mainly from Vietnam and Thailand, usually importing more than one million tonnes of the staple grain every year to meet domestic demand and maintain stockpiles.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said last year the country could produce enough rice for its own needs by 2020 with the help of free irrigation and other state measures to boost output.
"I do not believe we can be rice sufficient," Duterte said in a speech to officials of state universities at the presidential palace.
"If you'd ask me, in the next how many years, we will just have to import rice," Duterte said.
He said shrinking farmland and a growing population made it difficult to produce enough rice to meet domestic needs.
In April, Duterte ordered the National Food Authority (NFA) to build up its depleted rice stockpiles to the equivalent of 60 days of national consumption, or about 1.92 million tonnes.
The NFA has so far bought 500,000 tonnes mostly from Vietnam and Thailand and is set to import an additional volume of up to 805,200 tonnes.
Duterte said on Wednesday he wants NFA warehouses to be filled "up to the ceiling" with rice.
"I do not care if we have to sell it at a lower price someday if there's a glut in the market," he said.
Retail rice prices in the Philippines have risen steadily since the start of the year due to the absence of government-subsidized supply in the market. This has fed inflation which hit its highest level in at least five years in May. (Editing by Darren Schuettler)