THE Department of Agriculture (DA) has set its production target for palay, or unmilled rice, at 19.6 million metric tons (MT) for 2020, with production receiving a boost from seed distribution backed by the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).

The DA’s 2019 estimate is 18.4 million MT worth of palay, well short of the 19 million target, subject to adjustment pending damage reports from calamities late in the year.

“For this year, our target is about 19.6 million MT,” Andrew B. Villacorta, assistant secretary for Operations, Agribusiness and Marketing, said in a news conference in Quezon City, noting that this estimate incorporates the shift by rice farmers to other crops due to the decline in palay prices.

He noted that RCEF, specifically the seed distribution component, will help producers meet the DA’s target.

“We see the effect of RCEF this dry season, yung pinapamigay natin ng mga binhi… and then papatong pa yung P3 billion for seeds for this year (we see the impact of seed distribution in the dry season… overall we expect P3 billion worth of seed for this year) so actually 19.6 million MT is a conservative estimate,” he said.

The DA through the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) started the distribution of inbred rice seed to farmer beneficiaries in November 2019 for dry season 2019-2020, which will end April this year.

The P3-billion budget for seed distribution is one of the components of the P10-billion RCEF, which is funded by tariffs collected from rice imports. The program aims to reduce cost of production by half from the current P12 per kilo to narrow the competitiveness gap with imports. Yield per hectare is also expected to increase to 6 MT from 4 MT.

As of Dec. 23, 705,165 bags of seed were distributed to 471 of 985 targeted municipalities.

Mr. Villacorta said that the DA’s regular program, which is to promote the use of hybrid seed, will also help achieve the production target.

“We are targeting about 500,000 hectares for hybrid for this year,” he noted.

During the news conference, Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said that the rice inventory at the end of 2019 was sufficient for 100 days’ consumption.

“At the end of 2019, ang inventory level natin sa rice ay nasa 100 days. Mayroon ka ng cover for three months. (At the end of last year, the rice inventory was good for 100 days, which means we have enough cover for three months) Rice is now available in the country in the warehouses of importers, plus the farmers, plus the households,” he said.

Mr. Dar also said that the imposition of safeguard duties to control imports is always an option. He noted that the department is currently studying the impact of imports on all stakeholders.

“There is an ongoing study… We are not (ruling out any options),” he said. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang