By Carmelito Q. Francisco

DAVAO CITY — A supply deal has been signed between Mindanao organic rice farmers and a US buying group for rarities of organic rice varieties, the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) said.

MinDA, in a statement, also said that a Papua New Guinea delegation, headed by Central Province Gov. Robert Agrobe, has arrived to inspect production areas for premium rice.

The agency helped arrange a marketing agreement between premium rice farmers and PNG. An initial supply of about 5,000 tons is expected to be sent to PNG before the end of the year.

MinDA quoted Andrew Bolougne, head of the US group, as telling the farmers: “Produce as much as you can and we will market it.”

It added that Mr. Bolougne’s group is also facilitating the export of green and mature coconut to the US market.

Mr. Bolougne said demand for organic rice, particularly the so-called Black Rice, has been high because of their benefits compared with white rice.

“You cannot imagine how huge is the market demand for organic food today and we will cash in on that,” he added, promising that his group will commit to buy the produce at prices that will provide the farmers better income compared with traditional rice varieties.

The deal will involve the marketing of an “unlimited volume of White, Brown, Red and Black Rice.”

The agreement emerged from a forum MinDA organized in cooperation with Seedworks Philippines Inc. which was also attended by farmer groups in Mindanao.

Another result of the forum was the formation of the Mindanao Organic Rice Council.

MinDA also announced it will set up a database of organic rice farmers in Mindanao, and geotagging their farms.

Among the key challenges facing the traditional rice industry is the Rice Tariffication Law, which allows the entry of cheap foreign rice from more competitive rice producers in Southeast Asia.

The Don Bosco Multi-Purpose Cooperative in North Cotabato, one of the few groups in Mindanao selling organic rice, said that the organic rice industry cannot meet domestic demand.

Maria Helenita Gamela, vice chair and marketing officer of the coo-op, said organic farmers continue to enjoy better income compared to growers of traditional rice because their crop is higher value.

“We have a niche market. The price is steady whole year round but we cannot produce the needed volume,” Ms. Gamela said.

The cooperative is buying unmilled rice from its members for as much as P20 a kilogram, compared with the government support price of P17 for white rice, and she expects export agreements to push the price higher.