Food crisis looms: Philippines rushes to import rice, sugar, onions

By Eileen Mencias

The Philippines is facing shortages of essential food items, prompting the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) to call for increased imports.

NEDA issued Administrative Order No. 20, aimed at streamlining the import process for rice, sugar, and onions.

“Despite the expected 0.7 percent increase in local rice production in 2024, domestic output will still fall 15 percent below demand,” NEDA Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said.

The shortfall is estimated at 2.03 million tons, contributing significantly to the recent rise in inflation.

In March, inflation inched up to 3.7 percent, with rice prices alone accounting for over half of that increase.

Balisacan explained that rising global food prices necessitate imports to stabilize domestic prices.

He pointed out that the cost of imported rice has jumped by 27-29 percent compared to last year, reaching P39 per kilo.

“Our country has been facing agricultural supply challenges, which have worsened due to global disruptions and domestic policy coordination issues. These challenges have resulted in higher inflation, particularly for food,” Balisacan said.

He observed that sugar prices in 2023 remained elevated.

Sugar production even declined in 2022 because of a reduction in the harvested area, low fertilizer usage and weather disturbances from typhoons that damaged stocks and disrupted operations.

Balisacan said “relying mainly on the country’s production of refined sugar is insufficient to meet the domestic demand requirements.”

Onions are another concern.

Despite a projected 4.7% increase in local production this year, a 10 percent shortage is still expected.

This can be partially attributed to the surge in onion prices in January 2023, which incentivized farmers to plant more.

Balisacan recognized the concerns regarding food safety and the possible spread of diseases through imports.

Nevertheless, he stressed that extensive clearance procedures have been exploited as obstacles to imports, resulting in the delayed arrival of essential food items.

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