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May 10, 2008

Govt pitches birth control, friendly ties to beat rice crisis

Birth control at home and friendly ties with the world's top rice exporters will help the Philippines survive soaring food prices, AFP quoted President Gloria Arroyo as saying Friday.

Even though yields are growing above the population growth rate of 2.04 percent thanks to state investments in the farm sector, Manila is some way off self-sufficiency in the staple grain, she told a group of businesswomen here.

One of the world's largest rice importers, Manila has been hard-pressed to meet its import target this year of 2.7 million tonnes as prices have soared due to bad weather, the rise of the biofuels industry, urbanisation, and strong global demand, among others.

"We are challenged to promote birth spacing because even if our rice production is growing more than our population we have been importing rice since the Spanish (colonial) times and we have not yet closed that gap," Arroyo said.

Population control programmes in this Roman Catholic country have often foundered in the past due to opposition from the church, which says artificial contraceptives promote sexual promiscuity and immorality.

Arroyo also gave herself a pat on the back for having anticipated the rice price crisis. "The critical reaction is for exporting countries to husband their own stocks because prices are going up even in the exporting countries," she said.

"We have reached out to Vietnam and Thailand long before the shortage." Arroyo said "traditional relationships are a key element as sellers are forced to choose between hordes of willing buyers."

She said "the buyers who bought early are the only ones with rice. Only those who come to the party early leave with party favours. Thank goodness the Philippines is one of them."

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