THE Department of Agriculture (DA) said it will continue to pursue rice self-sufficiency after the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said high-value crops might be a better strategy.

DA remains focused on rice sufficiency after NEDA favors high-value crops
A farmer checks rice plants at the International Rice Research Institute in Laguna. — AFP

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said the DA cannot abandon projects it has already identified through “mass-based” consultations with stakeholders.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia told BusinessWorld at a briefing last week that it was necessary to avoid the previous administration’s “obsession” with rice production during which inflation “shot up,” fueled by high rice prices.

“That has been the focus before. Now, our policy thrust is trying to get the higher value crops market,” Mr. Pernia said in a roundtable meeting, citing crops such as coffee, banana, pineapple and cacao.

“We should not really be obsessed with rice self-sufficiency but food sufficiency,” he added.

The Aquino administration spent some P300 billion to boost the rice supply and reached a 97% sufficiency level for the staple grain, from below 80% in 2013.

Asked to respond, Mr. Piñol said Wednesday in a phone interview: “I respect his opinion but we have already identified the priorities of the Department of Agriculture.”

He noted that the 2020 rice self-sufficiency target remains within reach.

“We cannot possibly abandon rice production. Not for anything else because we have seen in the past that if we do not have enough supply of a very important staple commodity like rice, there is the risk of business groups like the cartels controlling the supply and the pricing in the market,  as we have seen with garlic and onion,” Mr. Piñol added.

He said crop diversification runs the risk of diverting the government from its goal of ensuring the supply of agricultural commodities Filipinos depend on.

“To diversify is to lose our focus on the basic commodities needed by consumers,” Mr. Piñol said.

To attain rice self-sufficiency, the required domestic production for rice has been estimated at 21.67 million metric tons (MT) worth of palay, or rice in its unmilled form.

For 2018, the DA has said it will need some P21 billion to hit rice output of 20.34 million MT, representing an 8.70% rise from the 2017 target of 18.57 million MT of palay. — Janina C. Lim