COVID-19 farm intervention to boost rice supply to 84 days adequacy

Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com
In this March 27, 2020, photo, sacks of rice harvested from Region II are stored at a warehouse of the National Food Authority in Valenzuela City. The rice will be sold at low price to ease the burden of consumers following the implementation of Enhanced community Quarantine in entire Luzon.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — Rice supply will get a boost from the government’s program for farmers affected by the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) even after the Luzon lockdown, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said on Thursday.

From 75 days last month, Dar said in a statement the country’s rice stock would likely increase to a level good for 84 days by June or before the onset of lean months from July to September when there is little to no harvest.

“With the implementation of the Plant, Plant, Plant Program, we are optimistic to produce an additional 9-day supply going into the lean months of July to September,” Dar said. 

Specifically, Dar said he expects the program, which intends to give high-quality seeds, fertilizers, machinery support and cash aid to farmers, to generate additional 1.3 million MT in rice at 70% implementation rate.

The program aims to support farmers whose earnings were likely reduced by a lack of commercial buyers of their harvests at a time businesses have closed and consumption was tepid with people staying indoors during the lockdown.

 The interagency task force on emerging infectious diseases, which acts as a policymaking body on the government’s COVID-19 response, has already recommended to President Duterte the approval of a P31-billion supplemental budget to finance the planting program. But it remains unclear if the president has already approved it.

Of the total amount, P8.5 billion would be allocated for a “rice resiliency project” that aims to boost the country’s supply of the main staple.

NFA resolves rice miller issues 

As of March, the Philippines has a total rice inventory of 2.18 million metric tons, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed. Broken down, 44.2% of the supply were held by households, while 31.3% were with commercial traders.

The remaining 24.5% were held by the National Food Authority, which on Thursday, also said it had already fixed logistical problems faced by rice millers on checkpoints during the lockdown, as well as the difficulty on marketing their by-products such as rice bran.

Among solutions prescribed were the hiring of tricycle drivers to transport rice millers to factories at a time public transport is suspended. IATF has also exempted millers from the lockdown, although NFA will still issue certifications to millers which they can present at checkpoints.  

“Our primordial concern now is the continuous, full-blast NFA palay stocks milling for a safe level supply of rice for this current emergency,” NFA administrator Judy Carol Dansal said in a separate statement.

The government has tasked to NFA to purchase more palay from farmers during the COVID-19 emergency to help increase their earnings. From January to April 15, NFA has bought 2.56 million bags of palay, but plans to nearly double that by month’s end.

In May, the grains agency targets to purchase 1.6 million additional bags of rice. 

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