PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. is expected to sign a five-year rice supply agreement with Vietnam when he visits that country later this month, Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jr. said.
The proposed deal ensures a reliable supply of rice from Vietnam even when supply is constrained, Mr. Laurel said at a Palace briefing.
“It basically guarantees us that they will be continuously supplying us rice, even in a calamity situation,” he said.
Mr. Marcos in September said Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh had proposed the five-year rice supply deal on the sidelines of the 43rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Indonesia in September.
“There was an agreement to draft a memorandum of agreement (MoA) or memorandum of understanding and we were given instructions (by the President) when we were in the ASEAN meeting in Japan to draft, finalize the MoA with Vietnam,” Mr. Laurel said, “so that during his trip at the end of January, the state visit to Vietnam, it will be signed.”
The Philippines imported 3.5 million tons of rice last year.
Mr. Laurel described the supply of rice in December as “healthy,” due to the expected arrival of imports to bridge the period of scarcity between domestic harvests.
But rice prices have been increasing all over the region mainly due to El Niño, he noted.
“We have to really manage the situation and we are looking at it on a day-to-day basis.”
Mr. Laurel added that tensions between the Philippines and China over territorial disputes have had no impact on agricultural trade between the two countries.
“As of now, there is no impact.”
Mr. Laurel added that the Philippines has been “shipping durian to China and it looks promising.”
The durian export deal was signed during a state visit to China in January.
The Philippine pineapple industry is also heavily reliant on China, with Chinese imports of Philippine pineapple up 22% year on year in the first seven months of 2023.
Mr. Laurel said the Philippines is seeking to address food security by mitigating post-harvest losses.
Mr. Laurel said the government will need P93 billion to build post-harvest facilities over the next three years, to keep P10.7 billion worth of rice and corn a year from going to waste.
“No major post-harvest facility was funded by the government in the last 40 years,” he said, adding that any such projects were “actually irrelevant or useless.”
“That’s why we need really to fund these projects, but we cannot build small, we have to build bigger,” adding that “mini” projects of limited scale have been ruled out.
He said the Department of Agriculture has a P1-billion budget this year to build cold storage for vegetable produce, but the funds “can only cover part of Luzon.
“If we try to solve the problem as soon as possible, assuming 2025… I need an additional P5 billion to address the vegetable cold storage issue of the entire country,” he said. “How to get the money? I’m still new at the government, so I’m still trying to figure that out.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza