For many years, the crops subsector had always buoyed the country’s farm production given the fact that it accounts for half of agricultural output. The latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) indicated that the crops subsector—led by rice and corn—accounted for nearly 60 percent of output. The 3.3-percent hike by the crops subsector in the first quarter, however, was not enough to cushion the double-digit contraction in the output of the livestock and poultry subsector, which had a combined share of 27.5 percent in total agricultural production.
The 3.3-percent decline in agricultural production is grim, but PSA data indicated that there are pockets of hope particularly when it comes to rice production. Palay production rose by 8.6 percent to 4.626 million metric tons (See, “Q1 palay yield up 8.6% despite smaller area,” in the BusinessMirror, May 12, 2021). The increase in output was achieved despite the 3.52-percent contraction in areas planted with rice.
An economist attributed the hike in rice production to the distribution of hybrid seeds, inbred seeds and free fertilizer and other interventions bankrolled by the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund. As rice is a water-loving crop, the mild La Niña in rainfed areas enabled farmers to plant the staple. While irrigated areas accounted for three-fourths of rice harvested in the first quarter, rice production in those areas fell 3.12 percent year-on-year, which pales in comparison to the 11.14-percent hike in output recorded in rainfed areas.
Barring an El Niño episode or strong typhoons that would ravage crops planted in major rice-producing areas, the Philippines could produce as much as 20.4 MMT of unmilled rice this year, according to the Department of Agriculture. If this level of production is achieved, the Philippines’s self-sufficiency level would again hit 95 percent. This means that the country would not have to rely too much on imports.
As the Philippines is one of the world’s top rice importers, the significant reduction in its purchases from abroad would ease the pressure on global supply, which is currently at an all-time high, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. The United States Department of Agriculture said record domestic harvest would reduce the Philippines’s imports this year (See, “Record domestic harvest seen to cut rice imports,” in the BusinessMirror, May 14, 2021). This would help maintain current world rice stocks, as FAO said anticipated drawdowns in Bangladesh, China and Indonesia will likely be compensated by expected buildups in India, Thailand and the United States.
While ample global stocks is good news for importers, the Philippines must continue to shoot for increases in output due to headwinds that threaten to disrupt production in top rice-exporting countries. India, the world’s top rice exporter, is facing a water shortage, according to an Associated Press report. Meanwhile, rice farmers in Vietnam—the Philippines’s top source of the staple—are switching to shrimp farming as rising seawaters bring increased salination levels in the Mekong Delta region, Reuters said in a report last May 6.
As climate change will make food production more challenging in the years to come, government must continue to expand its mechanization efforts and the roll out of other interventions to increase the production of staples and other key commodities like meat products. Government must also expand its investments in technologies that will help the farm sector eliminate animal diseases and cope with the ill effects of changing weather patterns.