Philippines looks to import more rice in case of El Nino losses

August 16, 2023 - 1:41 PM
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This file photo shows a farmer using fertilizer. (Philstar.com/File)
  • Traders asked to bring in more rice imports
  • Impact of El Nino seen from Q4 to early 2024
  • Marcos warns rice hoarders amid price spikes

The Philippine Department of Agriculture is recommending that private traders import an additional 500,000 metric tons of rice to cover possible crop losses caused by the El Nino dry weather phenomenon, a senior official said on Wednesday.

The additional imports by one of the world’s biggest buyers of the grain must arrive between November and January, agriculture undersecretary Mercedita Sombilla told a congressional hearing.

The recommended volume is on top of the additional approved rice purchases by private traders this year, of which 300,000 metric tons were supposed to arrive later this month, and another 300,000 metric tons in September, mostly from Vietnam.

Retail prices for imported and domestically produced rice rose this month by as much as 14%, based on government data, as global and domestic farmgate prices soared, adding pressure on food inflation.

The domestic harvest of the staple grain between July and September is usually the year’s lowest quarterly output, driving farmgate prices higher while traders are also competing for limited supplies.

Adding to supply risks, the government expects the impact of El Nino on agricultural output to be felt between the last quarter and into the first three months of 2024.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Wednesday warned rice hoarders and price manipulators not to try to take advantage of the seasonal decline in supplies while assuring the public of enough supplies.

“Rice supply is sufficient. Prices are, however, very variable. The government is working with the private sector to rationalize the prices and make available affordable rice in the market and in Kadiwa,” the presidential communications office quoted Marcos as saying, referring to government-run trading centers.

He asked the Department of Agriculture, of which he is the secretary, to closely monitor market prices for prices.

— Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty