THE PHILIPPINES said on Thursday that the 250,000 metric tons (MT) of rice it had planned to import should arrive in May, a month earlier than previously announced, to ensure there is ample government stocks ahead of the country’s lean harvest season.

The Philippines, a frequent rice importer, saw domestic prices of the staple grain increase by 3-4% in late January and rise further in the succeeding weeks, as state stockpiles dropped to their lowest in more than two decades.

Higher rice prices added pressure to Philippine inflation, which hit an annual pace of 3.9% in February, the fastest in more than three years.

Rice imports will boost the buffer stock of the National Food Authority (NFA), the state grains procurement agency supplying cheaper rice to the local market, Jonas George S. Soriano, assistant secretary at the Office of the Cabinet Secretary, told reporters.

The arrival of rice imports should help keep domestic prices stable before and during the lean harvest season starting July, he said.

“Even with sufficient supply of rice for the entire country today, the NFA management is directed to start their procurement process,” said a statement by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio B. Evasco, Jr. — who chairs the NFA Council that approves rice imports — which Mr. Soriano read at a media briefing.

Mr. Soriano said the NFA’s stocks have hit a level that can cover just less than two days of domestic consumption, well below the required 15-day inventory. As of Feb. 1, however, the country’s overall rice inventory, which includes those held by private traders and households, stood at nearly 1.8 million tons, sufficient for 53 days, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. — Reuters