In effect Alcala, who is also fighting a corruption case, pulled a complete U-turn on comments he was widely reported to have made last week, when he told a forum at the Ateneo de Manila: “will achieve zero [rice] importation by 2014.”
According to the ministry, he in fact meant that the government was on track to achieve its target of rice self-sufficiency this year. It also asked the media not to equate the concept of rice self-sufficiency with zero importation of rice.
In the clarification, Alcala said the government’s planned importation of 187,000 tonnes this year as buffer stock was only “for the lean months,” and should not be interpreted as not being able to meet the government’s rice self-sufficiency target.
“This year, all our efforts are geared toward increasing our 2012 palay production of about 18m tonnes by 2m more, to achieve our goal in the Food Staples Sufficiency Program [FSSP],” he said.
“The FSSP defines self-sufficiency as the country’s ability to meet its national food requirements, while maintaining a buffer stock to be used in times of need. We are working to meet our per capita consumption of about 115kg per person per year, given our population of about 99m Filipinos,” he added.
He also addressed the puzzling question of international import agreements, which would be left up in the air if the Department of Agriculture were to block rice imports. Even if the Philippines were to achieve its goal of self-sufficiency in rice, international commitments still require the country to import rice from other countries.
“I have always clarified that once we achieve rice self-sufficiency by the end of 2013, we may not be able to do away with provisions of our international agreements that require us to allow rice from other countries to enter our borders, like those under the WTO and Asean,” he said.
FoodNavigator-Asia recently questioned whether it was possible to make such a definite prediction without full knowledge of variables such as climatic and socioeconomic conditions. However, Alcala’s new statement added a footnote to say: “Of course, all our targets would have to be dependent on weather conditions, especially since climate change is upon us and weather and climate play an indispensable role in rice farming.”
Assistant secretary and National Rice Program coordinator Dante S. Delima added that the country has in fact been self-sufficient in rice for food “as early as last year.”
“Based on current data of palay production, and assuming a 90-day buffer stock, our calculations [show] we are already self-sufficient in rice for food,” he said.
“According to our studies, the high production last year, and a low consumption of about 113 kg of rice per person per year results in the production of 11.75 tonnes of milled rice to meet the needs of the 97.61m population at that time.
“For this year, the 20m tonnes of paddy will translate to 13.03 tonnes of milled rice to meet the 11.23m tonnes needed to feed the population, plus reasonable margins for seeds, processing, feeds, and wastes, plus a 3.47m tonnes ending stock good for 100 days,” he added.