Philippines says may import rice as storms hit crop

Sun Oct 4, 2009 5:15am EDT

* No timeline or supplier yet for planned imports

* Arroyo says imports need to be done as soon as possible

* Imports are for 2010 needs, rice stocks enough till end-09

(Adds comments from Arroyo spokesman, updates damage)

By Manolo Serapio Jr.

MANILA, Oct 4 (Reuters) - The Philippines, the world's biggest rice buyer, may import more of the grain to avert a potential shortage in the first half of 2010 after two storms wreaked havoc on ricefields, a top official said on Sunday.

"I am not worried about rice shortage for 2009 because we have enough buffer stock. But, we're watching the impact for the first and second quarters of 2010," Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap told local radio.

"If needed, we will import rice."

Yap did not say when the imports will be made or where the country will buy the grain, but in past years, Manila has signed import deals for the following year during the last quarter of the preceding year.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ordered the agriculture department to import food items if necessary, presidential spokesman Cerge Remonde said in a separate radio interview.

Apart from rice, Yap said there may be a need to import chicken and pork to address a looming supply shortage ahead of the expected pick-up in demand during the Christmas holidays.

Vietnam and Thailand are traditional rice suppliers to the Philippines. But, since last year Manila has bought the bulk of its needs from Hanoi, including 1.5 million tonnes in an inter-government deal earlier this year.

So far, the Philippines has imported 1.775 million tonnes of milled rice in 2009, versus a record 2.3 million tonnes in 2008 which helped drive grain prices to all-time highs.

ASSESSING EXTENT OF DAMAGE

Before the storms hit the country, an industry official in Vietnam said in August Hanoi may have struck a new pact to sell 400,000 tonnes of rice to Manila. [ID:nHAN46926]

Yap said the country, which imports around 10 percent of its annual rice needs, has enough stocks of the national staple until year-end.

Ketsana and Parma had destroyed almost 300,000 tonnes of paddy rice, according to the latest report from the agriculture department, equivalent to more than five days worth of consumption.

Yap said the government has a buffer stock of 30-35 days until the end of 2009.

"We are waiting for the water level to subside and determine the extent of the damage on rice farms," Yap said, adding the government is prepared to provide 100 percent seed subsidy to affected farmers in typhoon-hit areas.

So far, damage to crops, mostly rice, had reached nearly 6.5 billion pesos ($138 million).

Parma, the strongest typhoon to hit the country since 2006, slowly moved out to sea on Sunday after slamming into the remote northeastern Philippines and killing 17 people. [ID:nSP215411]

The system brought rain across the main Luzon island on Saturday but not as heavily as feared, especially along the densely populated west coast where floods in and around Manila from Typhoon Ketsana eight days ago killed nearly 300 people.

The October-December quarter is usually the biggest harvest period for rice farmers in the Philippines and the government had forecast unmilled rice output in the period would reach 6.48 million tonnes, up 4 percent from the previous year.

The country was hoping to harvest a record 17.45 million tonnes of paddy rice for all of 2009, with first-half output at 7.38 million tonnes.

($1 = 47.10 pesos)

(Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)