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PRRI urged to take steps to address rice shortage

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Edgardo Angara has asked the Philippine Rice Research Institute to develop other varieties of rice to meet the expected shortage in supply of the country’s premier staple due to the massive devastation of crops brought about by tropical storm “Ondoy” and typhoon “Pepeng.”

Angara said the country should not depend on rice importation, which the government said would increase after the recent calamities.

He stressed the government must think of ways to boost local production, saying that he tapped PhilRice to boost production in the country’s rice growing provinces, including his native Aurora.

“Our country’s limited rice production is further compromised by natural disasters. This does not only mean loss of livelihood for many Filipino farmers, but is also a serious threat to food sufficiency in the country,” he said.

“We have yet to see the worst, especially with harsh weather becoming more frequent. If we do not take action, this will result in more joblessness and more people falling below the poverty line. We must spend precious limited resources in providing our people with some cushion and safety net,” Angara said.

The Department of Agriculture said the country suffered a total of P18.4 billion in agriculture damage – P6.7 billion from Ondoy and P11.6 billion from Pepeng.

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The major crop damaged was rice, worth P14.4 billion. Over 109,000 hectares have no chance of recovery, while 155,000 hectares are expected to have lower yields.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates Filipinos eat an average of more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of rice each year and the country has continually faced the problem of high food cost, having the highest food prices among ASEAN countries. The Philippines is also one of the biggest rice importers in Asia.

Angara called on government to step in and be more aggressive in its agriculture policy.

“We are spending billions which could be allocated to long-term investments to boost our agricultural productivity. Our failure to initiate a long-term and focused effort to boost agricultural productivity could result in more poverty and widespread hunger,” Angara said in a statement.

He said his office and PhilRice were working together to set up the Aurora Rice Center where the production, milling and marketing of Basmati well-milled and brown rice varieties and other specialty rice would be done.

This integrated business project will also offer drying, milling, and trucking services to other clients within the province, especially during lean months, he said.

It is proposed that this project be a joint venture among PhilRice, the provincial government of Aurora and a duly registered association of Aurora organic rice farmers.

The Aurora Rice Center will start with a milling capacity of 200 sacks a day and an average warehouse capacity of 1,000 metric tons of milled rice every cropping season.

Initially, the center will produce Basmati rice, available in well-milled and brown form.

Angara said the province of Aurora has agriculture as its primary livelihood source, employing approximately half of the population.

About 49,991 hectares or 15 percent of the provincial land area comprise cultivated land. Major crops include rice, coconut, coffee, bananas, root crops, corn, citrus fruits, peanuts and abaca.

The trade industry employs about 11.5 percent of Aurora’s population. About 300 or half of all registered establishments in the province are engaged in wholesale and retail trading. Most are found in Baler, the trade capital of Aurora, and deal mostly with the basic needs of the constituents.  – Aurea Calica


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