By Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

THE government is planning to import 300,000 metric tons (MT) of rice to ensure there is enough domestic supply as Luzon remains under enhanced community quarantine.

At the same time, the country is facing a garlic shortage as local production is not enough to offset the loss of imports from China due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Agriculture department said.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo B. Nograles on Tuesday said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) recommended the importation of rice via government-to-government arrangements.

“The Department of Agriculture (DA) and other government agencies are coordinating with other Southeast Asian countries to make sure that their commitments for rice imports will be uninterrupted,” Mr. Nograles said in a briefing.

The Philippines was the world’s biggest rice importer in 2019, after purchasing a record 2.9 million MT — mostly from Vietnam and Thailand. This after the country removed caps on rice imports, allowing the private sector to purchase unlimited volumes.

However, Vietnam temporarily suspended new rice export contracts, as part of efforts to ensure food security amid the pandemic. Reuters reported that rice traders expect Vietnam to lift the suspension this week, with the government imposing a quota.

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Chairman Rosendo O. So said that instead of boosting rice imports, the government should provide funding for better farming and post-harvest facilities, free farm inputs, and higher support price for palay.

“I think we are the only country who believes in the ‘unli-import’ mindset. The response of our economic managers to Vietnam’s export ban is regrettably, but expectedly, to import an additional 300,000 MT of imported rice,” Mr. So said in a mobile phone message.

Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar earlier said there is enough rice supply which can last up to four months. He said that rice supply for the whole country is at 2.661 million MT, equivalent to a 75-day supply, including stocks from commercial traders, households, and government agencies.

Moreover, National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Judy Carol L. Dansal said the agency’s current rice inventory is at 481,800 MT, equivalent to a 14-day supply for the entire country. NFA also bought 86,711 MT of palay from individual farmers, cooperatives, and associations during January and February.

Latest data from DA showed that weekly rice demand for Metro Manila is at 26,241 MT with a committed supply of 929,358 MT, enough for a 35-week supply.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dar said in a radio interview on Tuesday that there is currently a huge shortage of garlic in the country.

“Around 8% of garlic requirement is produced locally. Most of our garlic supply comes from other countries like India and China,” he said, noting that they are unable to import garlic from China because of COVID-19.

Mr. Dar said there is no choice but to increase local garlic production. Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed local production of garlic in 2019 fell 4% to 7,300 MT, compared to 7,600 MT in 2018.

For the 2018-2019 cropping season, imported garlic reached 71,048 MT, data from the DA showed. Local demand for garlic is said to be around 128,000 MT per year.

However, the production of local garlic remains low because it is smaller but also more expensive than Chinese imports.

“China supplies garlic to countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Philippines. China garlic is cheap compared to local garlic which is small, low solid content, and expensive,” Rolando T. Dy, executive director of Center for Food and Agri-Business of the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P), said in a mobile phone message.

In a text message, DA Assistant Secretary Noel O. Reyes said that department is still in the process of asking farmer groups regarding the situation. — with Reuters