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Food imports to avert shortfall

The Palace on Tuesday said it will open up imports of food, particularly corn, to make up for the P14 billion worth of damage done to crops by Typhoon “Ompong.”

Food imports to avert shortfall
NOT VEGGIE GOOD. The display in Manila’s Zurbaran market on Tuesday is the antipole of a luxuriant supply of vegetables, particularly from the country’s vegetable bowl of Benguet, whacked by the recent powerful Typhoon ‘Ompong.’ Sonny Espiritu
“We can’t deny that P14 billion was a very high cost to agriculture. However, we now have policy shift, we have allowed the entry of food products, which we hope will bring down the cost of goods,” said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque.

Quoting Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, Roque said the storm damage done to corn crops was particularly serious, and that imports would be required.

“We’re hoping that inflation will not worsen because institutional steps were already taken by the government to help rein in inflation,” Roque said.

He said tarrification, which will liberalize the importation of rice, would bring down prices and lower the rate of inflation.

“The open importation of other food products will also offset whatever shortage may result—or whatever lower supply may result brought by Ompong. In other words, we hope to compensate for the loss because of Ompong through importation,” he added.

The Department of Agriculture reported that the typhoon caused P14.27-billion damage to the country’s agriculture, affecting 553,704 hectares of farmlands in the Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, and the Cordillera Administrative Region.

“Now the rice sector could recover, because we have coordinated with the National Irrigation Administration, especially for the Cagayan Valley region, not to close the irrigation systems,” said Piñol.

“But for corn, it’s a sad sight actually... I recommend to the President the opening up of the importation of corn to fill up for the shortfall,” he added.

The Agriculture chief then assured the public that prices of rice and goods would not go any higher.

“It would not make a dent right now because it’s harvest season in other parts of the country,” Piñol said, adding that the loss in rice was only 3.6 days of national supply.

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, meanwhile, urged the President to order the National Food Authority to buy storm-damaged palay from farmers in areas devastated by Ompong to help them and their families get back on their feet.

This, he said, would give farmers a chance to recoup the capital used to buy seed, fertilizer and other inputs.

Aquino said this would not be the first time the NFA has bought storm-damaged palay, the price of which would depend on the quality, moisture content, purity and extent of damage.

The government, Aquino said, can use the President’s Social Fund or the Calamity Fund, which are both under the Office of the President, to fund the initiative.

Senator JV Ejercito, on the other hand, cited the need to immediately pass a bill that establishes a Department of Disaster and Emergency Management.

“I filed this bill after Super Typhoon “Yolanda,” which brought severe calamities to our countrymen, and exposed the gaps in policies of the government in terms of disaster preparedness, mitigation, and response and rehabilitation,” he said.

The passage of the bill would be timely, given the destruction wrought by Ompong, he said.

The NFA said Tuesday it has already released a total of 32,391 bags of rice to relief agencies and local government units  in Regions 1 to 5 and Metro Manila for distribution to victims of Typhoon Ompong as of Sept. 18.

Initial releases to Department of Social Welfare and Development were already recorded as early as Friday, Sept. 14, or before Ompong made landfall, the agency said.

NFA Operations Centers in the affected regions are still monitoring the situation and are ready to provide quick response to any rice needs for typhoon victims, the agency said.

Under fire for rising rice prices, NFA Administrator Jason Aquino said the agency’s food security role can only be efficiently handled if it has the operational autonomy to plan and implement its own plans, based on actual experience, credible data, and accurate information that are necessary for more responsive decision-making.

“The NFA is a 46-year-old institution and majority of its current officials have stayed with the agency for an average of 30 years. But when their recommendations, based on solid data and bolstered by past experiences, are ignored by decision-makers, what else can they do?” said Aquino, who has already asked to be relieved.

Topics: Typhoon “Ompong" , Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque , National Irrigation Administration
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