Agri group warns 'rice crisis' possible due to El Niño

Jervis Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 26 2023 06:57 PM

A rice farmer looks at his farm in Guimba, Nueva Ecija. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file
A rice farmer looks at his farm in Guimba, Nueva Ecija. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA — A farmers' group on Wednesday warned of a possible rice shortage brought by a looming El Niño phenomenon later this year.

Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) National Manager Raul Montemayor said farmers may have lower yields this year due to lower rainfall levels. 

Montemayor said the start of El Niño will coincide with the second and third months of the wet season when water is vital for palay growth. 

Aside from possible lower yields locally, a rice supply shortage may also be expected internationally, as El Niño may affect other Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, a major source of the Philippines' rice imports.

"If it affects [the] whole ASEAN area, iyong supply ng bigas baka maapektuhan. Kukulangin ng supply, magmamahal sa international [market], parang rice crisis na naman. Hopefully hindi mangyari," Montemayor said during a food security forum.

(If it affects the whole ASEAN area, the rice supply may also be affected. The supply would fall short, and a rice crisis may emerge due to its soaring prices in the international market. Hopefully, that doesn't happen.)

"If we are to rely [on] imports, iyong pumapasok na imported ngayon ay medyo mahal. (The imported rice coming into the country is quite expensive.) That also explains why palay price is going up. That's another thing we have to watch out for—imports," he added.

Montemayor underscored the need to surpass the harvests in the lean months from July to September when rice production is low. This is the planting period before local farmers get to harvest again.

"May critical period na wala masyado production. Assuming makalusot tayo na ma-weather natin lean months, next problem natin next year," he added.

(There will be a critical period when we won't have much production. Assuming we could weather the lean months, our next problem would be whether we could withstand the lean months again next year or not.)

Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) chair Danilo Fausto, meanwhile, is calling on the government to allot a larger budget to the National Food Authority (NFA) so it could procure more rice for buffer stock.

This, Fausto said, would be useful should a rice shortage occur.

"We need Congress. We are lobbying for P50 billion for NFA to give additional buffer stock. We cannot rely on just the executive. We need buffer [stock] for this happening El Niño. We are anticipating this because we don't want to government to be reactive," Fausto said.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) earlier said they have been taking steps to address El Niño, which is projected to hit the country later this year.

Irrigation ranks lower in the hierarchy of priorities in case water needs to be reallocated.

The Bureau of Plant Industry also said they were developing climate-smart varieties to ensure crops can withstand climate change.


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