Rice sufficiency a pipe dream?

An Indian agricultural economist advised the government to secure investments in rice farmland abroad as it believes the Philippines’ goal of rice self-sufficiency through domestic production is impossible.

Dr. Samarendu Mohanty, former principal scientist at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, said the country has smaller arable land to grow enough rice to satisfy consumer demand for the commodity amid its expanding population.

“In other countries, they have arable land. The Philippines doesn’t have it because the country is an island nation,” he said during the recent 6th International Rice Congress in Pasay City.

“You can take all the measures to expand productivity here, like having certified seeds and fertilizer, but I don’t think you’ll be self-sufficient with the population you have,” Mohanty added.

The agricultural economist said the solution is to invest in farmland abroad under a backward linkage method. This distributes inputs from the farm sector to the non-farm sector, which includes agrochemicals, processing, and trading.

“You need to find a country where this can be done legally and where there is land and water. Many African countries — Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar — have bigger land the Philippines can invest in and get back the supply to the country,” Mohanty explained.

“There’s an Indian company producing rice in Africa and exporting it somewhere else. The Philippines cannot invest in land in India because of land restrictions,” he added.


‘Out of luck’

According to the World Economic Forum, India is the world’s second-top rice producer after China. However, India and other countries recently announced they would limit their rice exports as consumer demand and commodity prices have risen in their local markets.

“If you have to address it through imports and the exporting countries have food restrictions, then you’re out of luck. But if you have backward linkages, you can be assured that your rice was produced in Vietnam or another country. Nobody can take that away because that’s your investment,” Mohanty said.

He said the government must create policies and conduct discussions with its foreign counterpart and business community abroad to negotiate investments in external rice production.

“The government has to facilitate that. The private sector will enter if there’s assurance from the government that they can bring back rice to the country,” Mohanty explained.

He said India will resume rice exportations in May next year, with the country’s total production of at least 135 million tons. A portion amounting to 25 million tons is usually left as surplus.

The Indian embassy in Manila said on 18 October that India allocated 295,000 metric tons of rice to the Philippines, the biggest share of its non-basmati white rice export, following its bilateral talks with the Marcos administration in August.

Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Mercedita Sombilla said the two governments and the private sector will still discuss the rice imports’ price terms.

She, however, was optimistic that the rice imports would help stabilize the prices of the commodity in the domestic market.

Mohanty said India will likely export more rice in the future. “There’s a green revolution happening in the eastern part now. I expect India to have more than 30 million tons of surplus,” he said.

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