Manila madness

Using foresight to shift attention from oversight

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Maize

Using foresight to shift attention from oversight
The Philippines’ embattled agriculture secretary is clearly clairvoyant, otherwise he would never have come out with such a grand prediction as he did last week—that his government plans to shelve rice imports in 2014.

No doubt he is an expert in predicting weather patterns, both at home and across Asia; he must also have such a deep understanding of socioeconomic and political matters that he can forecast manmade strife that can have such an impact on food resources in Southeast Asia. 

The good news, it seems, is that Proceso Alcala has stamped his confidence on a bumper rice return and sustained food security for the duration of the coming year. Given the recent corruption charges against him and his department, it is always nice to get some good news.

Thank heavens for buffer stock, then! With the government still deliberating on whether the country’s corn growers can export yellow corn grain this year, the National Food Authority (NFA) council has approved a policy to import almost 190,000 tonnes of rice this year to maintain stocks of the staple.

Alcala told the press that a buffer, to be imported from countries like Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, was all that was needed to maintain security. Shipments are expected to arrive by June so the stores are full ahead of the lean season. This will be to the tune of half-a-million tonnes of rice—compared to just 120,000 tonnes last year.

Once these stocks arrive, the Philippines is sitting pretty for next year, especially since Alcala’s department has announced estimates for domestic paddy production that will be up over 2m tonnes this year on 2012’s 18.03m tonnes. If only life were as simple.

What Alcala and his government are doing is to impose restrictions on their farmers and markets. They know that food security is a very real issue, but to take a considered approach to it is considerably more prudent than to hurl tubthumping statements around with nothing at all to back them up.

As an importer of rice, the Philippines is part of a market with trade agreements and fiscal understandings. For anybody else to come out with a half-baked plan so early in the day on its rice policy for the best part of a year away is damaging, unnecessary and childish.

So it is a relief that talented Alcala predicts such a rosy future for rice production, even if his own prospects might not be so bullish.

Have your say: Do you think there is substance to Alcala's predictions? Let us know in the comments below.

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