RICE IMPORTS totaled 728,254.49 metric tons (MT) year to date at the end of February, up 84.6% from a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI).

According to BPI data, rice imports in February more than doubled year on year to 303,603 MT.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects Philippine rice imports of 4.1 million MT this year.

The last projection is 5.1% higher than the previous forecast of 3.9 million MT, according to a report from the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

The BPI reported that Vietnam remained the Philippines’ top supplier of rice, accounting for 53.7% of imports on volume of 390,997.22 MT.

In January, the Vietnamese government signed a memorandum of understanding to supply the Philippines with 1.5 million to 2 million MT of rice annually for five years.

Thailand supplied 195,921.38 MT during the period, or 27% of the total shipments.

The government has also expressed interest in engaging with Cambodia on a potential deal to supply rice to the Philippines.

Imports from Cambodia amounted to 1,620 MT in the first two months, accounting for 0.2% of the total.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. said that a trade deal would bolster supply at a time when the domestic crop is threatened by droughts and dry spells brought on by El Niño.

Damage to agriculture from El Niño has topped P1.23 billion, with the Western Visayas the hardest hit region, according to a report by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

The government weather service, known as PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration), said last week that 25 provinces on Luzon and five in the Visayas have the potential to develop drought conditions, while 22 may potentially experience dry spells until the end of March.

Another 15 may also experience dry conditions during the month. — Adrian H. Halili