MANILA - The Philippines has pushed back its 2013 target to attain self-sufficiency in rice production by another two years, an official said Tuesday, adding that the country will likely have to import hundreds of thousands of tonnes next year.
"We're pretty set at 1.7 million metric tonnes" of rice imports for this year, said Francis Pangilinan, an adviser to President Benigno Aquino on food security.
Asked if the Philippines planned to import even more than 1.7 million tonnes next year, Pangilinan said: "That's a possibility".
He said the Philippines is now aiming to end rice imports in 2016 - three years later than its original 2013 target.
Last year the Philippines imported a million tonnes of rice, making it the eighth largest importer in the world, according to the US agriculture department.
During the global food crisis in 2008, the Philippines imported a record 2.34 million tonnes of rice, the largest for any country.
Bad weather, including frequent typhoons and floods, had repeatedly stymied the country's efforts to produce enough rice, Pangilinan said.
The Philippines suffered from supply tightness in 2013, forcing the government to resort to more imports in the latter part of that year, he added.
The situation was repeated this year, with domestic rice prices shooting up by about 20 per cent between June and October, he said.
This forced the government to inject subsidised rice into the local market to stabilise prices.
About 26 per cent of the rice now on the local market is state-subsidised rice, he added.
With these factors in mind, Pangilinan said rice self-sufficiency remained an important target.
"Any country would like to be able to secure its food and be sufficient in rice. But I guess the issue here is at what cost and how much and how soon." Given time, he said higher-yielding seeds and more widespread access to irrigation and other support services should eventually help Filipino rice farmers produce enough for local consumption.
"If we improve yields, if we improve mechanisation, if we improve irrigation, that 10 per cent (gap between production and consumption) should not be unachievable," he said.