Philippine rice self-sufficiency plan blown off-course by typhoons

MANILA Mon Dec 2, 2013 2:30pm IST

MANILA Dec 2 (Reuters) - Philippine rice output is likely to grow 4 percent annually over the next three years, falling short of the rate needed to reach self-sufficiency in the grain due to a "new normal" of stronger typhoons, a senior farm official said on Monday.

The Southeast Asian country may need to import as much as 2 million tonnes of rice in 2014, its largest intake in four years, as it failed to meet growth targets because of two strong typhoons this year, according to traders and farming experts.

As hopes fade for the Philippines to become self-sufficient in its national staple before President Benigno Aquino steps down in 2016, its demand for rice imports is likely to remain among the largest in the coming years.

Stronger typhoons are the "new normal" and pose a "serious challenge" to the country's rice production, Agriculture Undersecretary Dante Delima said at a media briefing.

"We need to review our FSSP (Food Self-Sufficiency Programme) taking into consideration a new set of parameters, including the intensity of the typhoons," he said.

The Philippines, the world's largest rice importer in 2010 when it bought a record 2.45 million tonnes, is hit by an average of about 20 typhoons each year.

Two strong typhoons hit major rice-growing provinces this year, including Haiyan, which struck the central Philippines on Nov. 8, killing more than 5,600 people and destroying infrastructure and crops worth nearly $790 million.

Vietnam, the world's second-biggest rice exporter after India last year, is traditionally the country's main supplier. Vietnam competes mainly with Thailand, which is sitting on record-high stocks, for new Philippine deals.

Delima, who helps Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala supervise the Aquino administration's rice self-sufficiency programme, said 4 percent annual growth in rice output is sustainable over the next three years.

But that is not fast enough to meet the country's growing requirements, he said. Achieving self-sufficiency is based on a 6 percent annual growth in rice output, he said.

Self-sufficiency could still be possible with massive government investment in irrigation, which could offset losses due to typhoons, Delima said.

"Unfortunately, there's also those huge challenges, and we don't know over the next three years what type of changing climate we have," said Jim Hancock, a United Nations natural resources and livelihood specialist at the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Manila. (Reporting by Erik dela Cruz; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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