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NEWS UPDATES 8 July 2010

Philippines aims for zero rice imports

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It sounds like a fine idea: rice self-sufficiency for the Philippines, the world's largest importer of the grain, within three years.

In a country where political and economic leaders are not shy about making bold predictions, Filipinos could be forgiven for wondering whether this target set by newly appointed agriculture secretary Proceso Alcala is wishful thinking.

But experts say self-sufficiency in rice production is achievable given the right plate of programmes. To be sure, some crop scientists think three years is a stretch, but it could be done by the end of newly inaugurated President Benigno Aquino III's six-year term in office, as reported by Asian News Network

Ending two decades of reliance on imports of the food staple to make up for local production shortfalls is the biggest challenge in a review of the entire agriculture sector ordered by President Aquino this week. "In three years, zero imports in rice," Mr. Alcala told reporters earlier this week. In previous comments, Mr. Alcala, a former congressman with a strong record in farming legislation, said the "right programmes and assistance for farmers" would enable the target to be met.

The Philippines imports around a tenth of its yearly rice needs. For this year, a record 2.45 million tons of the grain have been ordered to keep stockpiles healthy after an unusually dry season this year and severe storm damage late last year, which badly hit domestic rice production.

For the International Rice Research Institute, self-sufficiency hinges on two factors: Rice production must be increased, and consumption decreased. Said IRRI senior researcher Piedad Moya: "Better irrigation and the availability of affordable high-quality seeds are the two main keys that will result in higher yields."

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