DAVAO - The administration of Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte will aim to make the country self-sufficient in rice production within one to two years, but will still allow imports until the goal is achieved, his spokesman said.
"We will work for rice self sufficiency. But that will not be immediate so we will continue to import if we have a shortfall," spokesman Peter Laviña told Reuters on Friday. Duterte will become president next month.
Laviña said domestic rice production will be intensified to achieve the self-sufficiency goal, echoing a similar promise by the outgoing administration of President Benigno Aquino, which poured billions of pesos into agriculture.
The Philippines, the world's No. 3 rice buyer, regularly imports more than a million tonnes a year of the food staple to meet demand from its growing population.
"We will develop idle lands, give more support to the agricultural sector, modernize it," Laviña said. "Rice farming can be modernised ... so we can undertake all these measures to increase the productivity of our rice farmers."
A plan by the incumbent government to import an additional 500,000 tons of rice this year to beef up state reserves will be reviewed, Laviña said, adding that more transparent government-to-government deals are preferable to allowing private traders to transact shipments.
Under government-to-government transactions the country's National Food Authority (NFA) could only enter into rice supply deals with the governments of the three countries from which it buys rice, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.
Asked how soon the new administration will talk to those countries about supply, Laviña said: "That would be immediate."
Some 500,000 tons of rice bought by the NFA from Vietnam and Thailand arrived in the first quarter and outgoing President Benigno Aquino has given the agency a standby authority to import an additional 500,000 tons if needed.
The country's paddy rice output in the first quarter fell 9.97 percent from a year ago to 3.9 million tons, below the government's forecast of 4.01 million tons, amid a crippling drought linked to the El Nino weather phenomenon.