MANILA – The Philippines will import an additional 132,000 tonnes of rice to boost stocks in southern provinces, where prices have surged in recent weeks amid limited supply, its agriculture minister said on Wednesday.
The plan approved by regulators includes the “immediate procurement” of 32,000 tons of the staple grain, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol told reporters.
The National Food Authority (NFA), the country’s food security agency that buys most of the country’s import requirements, will issue import permits for the balance of 100,000 tons after the usual bidding process, he said.
Pinol had proposed the additional importation as residents of Tawi-Tawi, Sulu and Basilan and Zamboanga City in Mindanao scrambled for rice supplies in recent weeks following what he said was a crackdown on smuggling.
The additional imports will be part of the unallocated portion of the maximum 805,200 tons the private sector is allowed to bring in each year under a quota system.
“The first 32,000 (tons) will be delivered after (NFA’s) procurement process is completed in 15-20 days (and) that will be good for two months,” Pinol said.
The Philippines, one of the world’s biggest rice importers, usually buys from top producers Thailand and Vietnam, where prices have been flat this month after falling steeply in June and July.
The southernmost provinces of the Philippines have for years relied on smuggled rice believed to come from Vietnam and Thailand, shipped via the Malaysian state of Sabah, causing many local farmers to quit growing rice, Pinol said.
Malaysia and the Philippines have recently agreed to stop smuggling activities along the countries’ borders, resulting in “very limited” rice supplies in the southern regions, he said. -Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Tom Hogue