Philippines unlikely to meet rice self-sufficiency target

By Judith Balea, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Apr 20 2010 06:15 AM | Updated as of Apr 20 2010 06:44 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Due to lack of proper funding, damages from typhoons, and the dry spell brought about by the El Nino phenomenon, the Philippines is unlikely to attain its target of becoming self-sufficient in rice by 2013.

In a media forum at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Sergio Francisco, program leader of Impact and Policy Research at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), said the target requires rice production growth of 5% yearly.

However, in 2009, rice production fell by 3.31% due to back-to-back killer typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, and this is expected to drop again this year because of the ongoing dry spell.

"I am pessimistic that given the rate of investment the government has put into rice sufficiency, and also given the past typhoons and El Nino, the targeted year will be pushed. If the government will put the right funding, we might attain the 2013 goal," Francisco noted.

Asked about the exact time frame when the country will no longer rely on rice imports, Francisco replied, "We cannot tell yet, we have to go back to the drawing board."

He said they will meet with government officials in June, after the national elections, to revisit the country's production targets.

The Philippines, which imports at least a tenth of its rice needs, is considered the world's biggest rice importer.

Self-sufficient by 2017

Despite being an agricultural nation, the country has not been able to match rice demand due to its high population increase.

Rice production has been growing by an average of 3.68% from 2002 to 2007, much slower than the growth in rice requirement of 4.7%, which factors an annual population increase of 2.13%.

At this pace, Francisco said the Philippines will only achieve a 94% self-sufficiency by 2013.

He said a 100% self-sufficiency would be achievable by 2017 if the country "makes a further leap to negate negative growths" in 2009 and 2010, and sustain the average 3.68% annual growth in the coming years.

But with little government resources to fund key programs aimed at propping up rice output, Francisco said he was uncertain if 2017 was a realistic target.

An earlier rice sufficiency plan crafted by PhilRice placed budgetary support for rice production at P15 billion a year over the next 5 years.

Challenges, opportunities

Julian Lapitan, national relation manager of IRRI, said that aside from high population growth, the lack of relevant technology, erratic weather and insufficient support services and policies are the major reasons for the country's lackluster rice production.

He noted that the upcoming elections also pose a threat to production targets.

"We cannot be self sufficient in rice if our programs and direction are changed every time there is a change in leadership. We need people with political will to lead our programs. We have to wait and see until after the elections," he said.

Nonetheless, Lapitan said the government should continue and intensify current efforts to improve rice output.

He said the government should address the need for "new technological tools that speed up development of relevant information" and increase research and development support for rice production.

Achim Dobermann, deputy director general (Research) of IRRI, for his part, cited the need for additional funding, particularly for fertilizer, which is "very critical" for rice production in the Philippines."

He said that for every one million tons of additional palay (unhusked rice), an added fertilizer cost of $50 million is required.

"This $50 million added cost will translate to $300 million savings in imported rice," Dobermann said.

The IRRI official noted that the country's current average yield per farmer is 4.2 tons per hectare. He said this must be increased by 1 to 3 tons per hectare.

"If we close this gap, we might have enough rice to feed the Philippines."