Manila (AFP) Jan 21, 2011
Rice output in the Philippines, the world's largest importer of the grain, fell last year as the country's farms were hit by a drought and typhoons, the agriculture ministry said Friday.
The ministry's Bureau of Agricultural Statistics said the bad weather also led to a fall in the output of coconuts, a key export for the sector.
Grain production was hit hard by weak rains in the first nine months of 2010, with unmilled rice output falling 3.04 percent from a year earlier to 15.77 million tonnes, the bureau said in a report.
Typhoon Megi destroyed about half a million tonnes of rice when it struck just before harvest in October, also killing 36 people, while Typhoon Conson also devastated the country, killing 111 people.
"The El Nino phenomenon that hit the country this year had adversely affected the sector's production performance," the report said.
The long dry spell was followed by typhoons that also destroyed coconuts, leading to a nearly one percent drop in output, the bureau added.
Overall, the agriculture sector contracted 0.12 percent, it added.
However, Minda Mangabat, head of the bureau's cereal statistics unit, said yields should rise in the first half with more abundant rain as well as a near 10 percent expansion of rice farm lands.
"Total (unmilled rice) production in January-June 2011 may reach 7.64 million tonnes, 15.4 percent above last year's level of 6.62 million tonnes," Mangabat said in her written report.
The ministry is consulting with the National Food Authority, the state grains trader, to determine whether rice import targets this year would be affected, Mangabat added.
The head of the grains importing agency, Angelito Banayo, said 10 days earlier it plans to sharply cut its imports of the grain this year because it already had a lot of rice in storage.
The agriculture ministry set an import ceiling of 1.5 million tonnes last year, but data from the grains agency's website said 2.13 million tonnes of rice were actually shipped into the country in the same period.
President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Ricky Carandang said Friday the government was investigating allegations the previous government had imported more rice than was needed by some officials to win kickbacks.
"We're spending too much on subsidies to the (grains importing agency), 177 billion pesos ($4 billion) in the previous year," Carandang told reporters.
"It takes some time to gather the information, (but) again that is one of the things that we want to resolve," he added in response to queries on the allegations.
The farm sector employs one in three Filipino workers but accounts for less than a fifth of the country's economic output.
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