By Genalyn Kabiling
PORT MORESBY – The Philippines is eyeing Papua New Guinea as its “food security insurance” by tapping the Pacific island neighbor as the country’s next supplier of affordable rice in five years.
The two countries recently forged an agreement strengthening cooperation on agricultural development that includes allowing Filipino farmers to grow rice here and supply the staple back to the Philippines.
“We’re looking at Papua New Guinea as our food security insurance,” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said during a media interview with reporters at the rice demonstration farm in Port Moresby.
“Can you imagine if we’re able to develop 4 million hectares here, that’s even bigger than rice area that we have right now. So if our 3.9 million hectares could feed the 95 percent of Filipinos right now, you can just imagine what 4 million hectares in Papua New Guinea would be able to contribute to our food security program,” he said.
Following the signing of the agricultural cooperation agreement, Piñol said Papua New Guinea has offered 50,000 hectares of land in East Sepik for the Philippine-led rice production.
He said Allan Bird, governor of East Sepik province, was looking at an additional two million hectares for rice farming during their recent meeting here.
Under the satellite rice production arrangement, Piñol said Filipino farmers would first supply rice to Papua New Guinea, which has an annual rice requirement of 400,000 metric tons. The excess rice yield could be exported back to the Philippines and help ensure stable rice supply and prices, according to Piñol.
“Sila ang priority na bibili noon for the local supply. Anything in excess pwede natin dalhin sa Pilipinas or pwede natin i-export to other island nations [They will have the priority in buying rice for the local supply. Anything in excess, we can ship it to the Philippines or export to other island nations],” he said.
“Ang estimate ko [My estimate is] in five years we should already be able to ship the first rice from Papua New Guinea to the Philippines,” he added.
Piñol said Filipino-produced rice shipments from Papua New Guinea could boost the country’s supply and stabilize prices of the staple. He noted that such rice shipment from Papua New Guinea could also match those sold in Vietnam and Thailand.
He noted that the current rice demonstration farm in Papua New Guinea was “performing very well due to the soil’s fertility. The first harvest is expected in the last week of December.
“Actually kung ang production cost natin sa Pilipinas is P12 per kilo, siguro dito, pwede natin tapatan ang Vietnam ditto. [Our production cost in the Philippines is P12 per kilo. Maybe here we can match it with Vietnam’s],” he said.
“It’s a P7 production cost. That’s my estimate with that anticipated growth and output,” he added.
Piñol said around 100,000 hectares must first be developed for rice production to satisfy the rice needs of Papua New Guinea. He said they would also encourage Filipino entrepreneurs to invest in rice production and hire Filipino farmers.
“Kapag iinabot lang natin 1 million hectares dito, shoot na tayo sa Pilipinas. Safe na tayo because we only need about 500,000 hectares additional actually sa Pilipinas for us to be rice-sufficient within the next five years. [Once we reach 1 million hectares here, it’s safe for the Philippines because we only need about 500,000 hectares additionally in the Philippines for us to be rice-sufficient within the next five years],” he said.
He explained the Philippines, which struggles with decreasing farmlands and rising population, decided to outsource rice farms in Papua New Guinea due to its vast fertile land. Papua New Guinea has 8 million people in around 46 million hectares.
He admitted that the country could not rely on the traditional rice-exporting countries such as Thailand and Vietnam due to the growing populations. He noted that the country recently failed its rice bidding due to their high prices “which we cannot control.”
Piñol asserted that outsourcing crops abroad to meet domestic supply was not a new concept. He noted that some Japanese companies were planting bananas in the Philippines “simply because they cannot plant bananas in Japan.” #