DA to spend P500 million for expansion of rice-corn blend project

The Department of Agriculture (DA) will shell out at least P500 million next year to sustain the rice-corn (RiCo) blend project, which seeks to improve the country’s food security and cut its dependence on rice imports.

“Part of what we need to support PhilMaize [Philippine Maize Federation  Inc.] will be included in the GAA [General Appropriations Act] of 2019. It will be around half a billion,” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol told reporters in a recent interview.

Piñol said the DA will help the PhilMaize to consolidate corn produced by farmers for the RiCo blend project, which is starting this year. For this, he added, he committed an initial P50 million to kickstart the program.

The DA chief disclosed that RiCo blends would be commercially sold in the market starting the second quarter. “Perhaps, we will sell first the pure corn grits and the 50-50 blend, which is easier to mix [than other blends].”

The 50-50 RiCo blend is a rice-corn mix that consists of 50 percent white rice and 50 percent yellow or white corn.

The RiCo project, which was spearheaded by PhilMaize, is now supported by the DA and the National Food Authority. Under the project, the NFA is tasked to handle the initial marketing of the RiCo blend in Metro Manila.

“We have engaged SM, Rustans, Robinsons and big supermarkets. We will also be penetrating big supermarkets in Cebu and palengkes [wet markets],” Piñol said.

He added the government wants to encourage the private sector to invest in the RiCo project. “We would be encouraging private-sector participation. Since we have established the link with the NFA and supermarkets, then we could allow the private sector to enter and participate in this program.”

“Under the project, we would buy directly from farmers and engage private groups, who will deal with the NFA, who, in turn, would be responsible for the mixing and marketing of the products,” Piñol added.

Earlier, National Corn Competitiveness Board Executive Chairman and PhilMaize Chairman Emeritus Roderico R. Bioco said corn growers are targeting to sell 30,000 metric tons (MT) of RiCo this year to determine the product’s acceptability.

PhilMaize has decided to go into selling the RiCo blend to complement efforts of the government to achieve rice self-sufficiency and reduce the country’s reliance on imports.

Earlier the DA chief said the consumption of rice-corn blend could wipe out  the country’s rice-supply shortfall by 2019.

“[RiCo] would end the country’s rice-supply shortfall with the infusion in 2019 of about 500,000 MT of corn grits and 1 million MT in 2020, thus effectively achieving food-staple sufficiency for only the second time in the history of the country,” Piñol said.

Piñol added the RiCo blend will be affordable because it will be sold at around P35 per kilogram, lower than the P50 per kg consumers spend for white rice.

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Turning Points 2018