Biggest rice importer PH lessens imports this year

Published December 15, 2020, 5:00 AM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

As a result of the government’s decision to regulate the issuance of import permits on rice, the Philippines will now end the year with slightly lower imports of the staple.

Despite this, the country is still poised to retain its status as the world’s top rice importer.

In its latest report on global rice production, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) forecast for the Philippines’ 2020 rice imports has been reduced from 2.5 million metric tons (MT) to 2.3 million MT. 

This, according to USDA, was because of the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture’s (DA) decision not to issue additional import permits for the remainder of the year.

“Private sector imports in the Philippines have been stymied in recent months as the government has stopped issuing new import permits with unrest in the farm sector,” USDA said, referring to the continuous decline in the price of locally produced palay.

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Still, the Philippines remains the top rice importer in the world, followed by Nigeria, which is expected to end the year with 1.4 million MT of rice imports and Brazil with 1.3 million MT.

It was in November when the DA made a decision to stop issuing sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPSICs) on rice in order to regulate the entry of rice imports.

Because of the government’s decision not to issue additional import permits, Vietnam’s rice exports are also expected to decline from the previous forecast of 6.4 million MT to now 6.2 million MT, the USDA report said. 

Data from the DA’s Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) showed that as of November 13, 1.92 million MT of rice already entered the Philippines, which is higher compared to the P1.85 million MT that the country imported during the same period last year.

The country’s biggest supplier of imported rice remains to be Vietnam, which exported 1.66 million MT of the staple during the period.

Next to Vietnam are Myanmar (137,314 MT), Thailand (67,824 MT), China (26,130 MT), and India (10,278 MT).

Of the Philippines’ total rice imports so far, only 2,618 SPS-ICs were used, which means that there are still 1,986 unused SPSIC for this year, or equivalent to 1.82 million MT of rice.

If all of these issued SPICs will be used, the Philippines’ total rice imports are expected to be around 3.74 million MT.

USDA’s latest forecast came at a time when the Philippines’ rice production has been significantly compromised by the recent typhoons, namely Quinta, Ulysses, and Rolly.  

Just more than a week ago, the DA already officially dropped its target palay production for the year, admitting that the country’s annual output for unhusked rice will no longer reach 20 million metric tons (MT).

For the last quarter of 2020, rice production is expected to reach 7.42 million MT, bringing this year’s total palay output to only 19.32 million MT, according to DA National Rice Program (NRP) Lead Assistant Secretary Andrew Villacorta.

While this is 2.7 percent more than the total harvest of 18.8 million MT in 2019, this will be lower than the 20.34 million MT of play the DA was expecting the country will produce for this year.

Rice farmers across the country are now pleading for the government’s help.

“Every time there is a calamity in Isabela, rice and corn farmers here do not earn much due to the devastation, in addition to very low farmgate prices of both corn and palay,” Fe Bello, a farmer from

Isabela and member of the Isabela Women for Health and Development (IWHD), said.

“We, women farmers, call on the government to help us with additional farming capital to pay rent for

the use of rotavator, labor for farmworkers, and more livelihood for additional sources of income. At the moment, we teach our members to make virgin coconut oil as an alternative income source,” she added.

According to reports from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the recent typhoons have devastated more than 500,000 hectares of farmlands combined and affected a total of 274,425 farmers and fishers.

Overall, agricultural damage due to typhoons is now estimated at P14.9 billion, according to estimates of DA’s DRRM.