Food security expert: Rice supply not an issue amid quarantine

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 1) - With stringent travel restrictions in Luzon amid the coronavirus crisis, a food security expert downplayed concerns about a possible rice shortage.

Victor "Bruce" Tolentino said food security is not an issue.

Tolentino, former deputy chief of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and now a Monetary Board member, said rice supply is not a cause for concern since the National Food Authority has enough stock.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar allayed fears of a rice shortage on Wednesday's Laging Handa briefing. He said stocks as of March show the country has enough supply for 75 days.

READ: Agriculture Dept.: No rice shortage during crisis period

The Philippines remains among the top rice importers in the world, in part due to the rice liberalization law that took effect last year. It allowed open trade that raised supply and forced prices down.

A report from US Food and Agricultural Services showed the Philippines imported 2.9 million metric tons of rice in 2019 alone. Private traders collectively brought in over two million metric tons.

The country is known to import rice from Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced Vietnam to restrict rice exports, and other countries are expected to do the same.

Tolentino said the government may source grain elsewhere.

"There is a lot of stock right now in eastern India. India is the largest exporter and there’s also potential stock from Myanmar, so there is supply from the rest of the world not only from Vietnam and Thailand," he added.

However, importation may not be needed as the government said it will only do so during an emergency.

Tolentino said that with enough supply, food prices will likely remain table.

Inflation for the year is expected to settle within the 2.4 percent estimate of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, driven by cheaper fuel and the price freeze implemented in response to the coronavirus crisis.

CNN Philippines' senior correspondent Lois Calderon contributed to this report