A farmer uses a hand tractor to plow a rice field before planting palay seedlings in Tanay, Rizal, in this BusinessMirror file photo.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) is targeting to expand the country’s paddy rice output this year by at least 6.5 percent to a record-high of nearly 20 million metric tons (MMT). The DA said it is banking on the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) and its hybrid rice program to increase palay output to 19.6 MMT, from last year’s estimated 18.4 MMT. The DA has earlier slashed its projected total palay output for 2019 to 18.4 MMT, from 19 MMT following a series of typhoons that battered the farm sector in December. Typhoon Ursula (international code name Phanfone) and Typhoon Tisoy, (international code name Kammuri) which struck the Philippines last month, destroyed billions of pesos worth of crops, according to official government data. The damage and losses to agriculture due to Ursula alone reached P3.5 billion. The typhoon damaged some 39,000 metric tons of rice, corn, and high-value crops planted in Mimaropa, Bicol region, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, and Eastern Visayas. Citing the projection of Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), Agriculture Assistant Secretary Andrew B. Villacorta said palay output likely reached 19 MMT despite the damage caused by the storms. In its latest forecast, the PSA estimated that total palay production in 2019 likely remained flat at 19 MMT. In 2017, the Philippines recorded its highest palay output of 19.276 MMT, according to PSA data. Villacorta said the effects of the RCEF seed component, which provides free high-yielding seeds to rice farmers, would be seen this year and expansion of areas planted to hybrid rice would drive total production to hit record-high this year. He added that the DA is eyeing to expand hybrid rice area to about 500,000 hectares this year using its P7-billion rice program fund. Under the RCEF, the government would distribute P3 billion worth of inbred seeds to farmer-beneficiaries annually until 2024. “The 19.6 [MMT palay output target] for 2020 is still conservative,” Villacorta said during the DA’s press briefing last week. The country’s palay output in January to September 2019 fell by 5 percent to 11.32 MMT, from 11.91 MMT recorded in the same period of 2018, according to PSA. The country’s rice “adequacy” level last year fell to 85 percent following higher imports which reached a record-high 3-MMT volume. The Philippines’s rice self-sufficiency ratio (SSR) fell to an eight-year low in 2018, as more imports flowed into the country to plug the shortfall in domestic production, according to the PSA. The PSA said rice SSR declined in 2018 as domestic output shrank while the supply of imports went up. The PSA defines SSR as “the magnitude of production in relation to domestic utilization.” The SSR shows the extent to which a country’s supply of commodities is derived from its own domestic production.