Rice cartels, smuggling going out of style - Alcala

Legazpi City (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said rice cartel and smuggling would soon be a thing of the past as he noted an upsurge in the country's rice production goal last year.

"The agriculture program is on the right track in meeting the challenges to make the country a rice-sufficient nation," said Alcala, who was here on Wednesday to turn over to some 15 farmers' groups in Albay shallow tube well pumps capable of irrigating up to 20 hectares of rice lands.

He said the rice cartel operation would soon "die a natural death."

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There are several big rice cartels tagged as the "Binondo" cartel owned by Chinese-Filipinos who corner and manipulate rice prices and supply in the country, confirmed a source who refused to be named for lack of authority to speak on the matter.

The source added that the cartel is involved in rice smuggling because it controls hundreds of multipurpose cooperatives in the country.

In Bicol, there are at least two rice cartels owned by Chinese-Filipino businessmen who operate in Camarines Sur and Albay.

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Coops as dummies

The source also took notice of the widespread rice smuggling activities of government-accredited multipurpose cooperatives used as dummies by big-time rice traders.

These reported rice smuggling activities have triggered a Senate inquiry wherein several multipurpose cooperatives had to confront smuggling charges by the Bureau of Customs.

Alcala said that despite the calamities that happened last year, the country was able to produce some 18.3 million metric tons of rice which surpassed the Department of Agriculture's (DA) goal of 300,000 metric tons.

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He said the bright outlook posted by the country's rice production meant the DA could continue to cut down its rice importation program by half this year from the 2.4 million metric tons of rice imports last year.

Rice export program

"Gradually, we would stop rice importation this year and start to embark on a rice exportation program to other Asian neighbors," he said.

Aside from the tube well pumps given to Albay's farmers, Alcala also handed to Albay Gov. Joey Salceda a four-wheel drive mini-tractor worth P1 million during his visit here on Wednesday.

Alcala said the distribution of farm implements is part of the government's effort to achieve its rice sufficiency target by 2014.

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