Monday, January 01, 2018

1st January ,2018 Daily Global Regional Local Rice E-Newsletter by Riceplus Magazine

DEC 31, 2017
I learned I won’t make any New Year’s resolutions. It wouldn’t do any good anyway. I’m just not that resolute. Fact is, I don’t need to make any resolutions. Not because I’m already perfect … but because Her Royal Highness Princess Wife is … she makes all my resolutions for me. She has a list.
At the top of her list for 2018 are my fingernails. To her, trimmed fingernails are more than an aesthetic. She sees long nails as a brutish, primitive and unsophisticated sort of thing. And for one to chew on a fingernail … to have enough fingernail to chew on … why that’s just barbaric.
Now, one may think, if trimming my fingernails makes Her Royal Highness Princess Wife happy … just trim the darn fingernails. But such an act has far reaching ramifications. It is a matter of liberty and power. If I trim my nails, playing poker will become difficult because without a thumbnail I won’t be able to slyly lift the corners of my hole cards from the felt and peak at them. Vast territories inside my nose and bellybutton will go unexplored, the pop-tops of beer cans will go un-popped and I will need to buy a screwdriver, which is nothing more than a prosthetic fingernail, to change the battery in my clock. None of these things matter. The resolution has been made.
Her Royal Highness Princess Wife has declared that in 2018 I will be a completely frugal person. Now, on the surface, this sounds fine. But it is subterfuge. She began covertly working toward this end some time ago. Her plan was and remains that I make zero purchases … none … zilch … her warped version of what it means for me to be frugal.
It began with cotton swabs. So there I was, two years ago, in the cotton swab aisle of the Walmart. There is a box of 1,000 swabs selling for around $3. But for $1 more, I can get 50 swabs that come in this neat little plastic dispenser. It was when I chose the 50 swabs in the neat little plastic dispenser over the 1,000 swabs in a box she decided I shouldn’t be allowed to shop … ever. Now, to her, me being frugal doesn’t mean I can’t go shopping. I can … when accompanied by an adult … namely her. I am allowed to push the cart. But to even think about putting anything in the cart, why, that would just be silly.
Her Royal Highness Princess Wife has resolved that in 2018 I become a “prepper.” Not the kind of prepper who stockpiles food and ammunition in preparation to rise above the hungry hoards at the onset of the apocalypse, but the sort of prepper who is ready for that dreaded day when we would run out of toilet paper. You see, up until two months ago, Her Royal Highness Princess Wife had no idea what Costco or Sam’s Club was. And we were happy. Now that she has discovered Costco and Sam’s Club, I know that from 2018 on to eternity … I will be a prepper.
She, being the sly little thing she is, began prepping me to be a prepper about a year ago. My first lesson was in curry … the spice … curry. The little jars or packages of curry just weren’t practical, just weren’t frugal. She felt we should be buying it by the kilo. I didn’t understand.
“Habebe!” I say. “A kilo is 2.2 pounds. Isn’t that like a lifetime worth of curry?”
She scoffs. “No Habebe! We need two kilos for one year … and about one kilo of cumin and a kilo of tumeric, a half kilo of anise and about as much cardamom, cloves, etc.”
And I wondered … “What hath God wrought?”
She found a place online where she could buy curry by the kilo. I stood my ground and put my foot down at two kilos. I had to rearrange a cabinet to hold her spices.
Since then, she began buying Basmati rice by the 50 pound bag, brown rice and black rice by the 25 pound bag. Then she discovered Costco and I have discovered I will pass the days of 2018 making room in the pantry and closets, removing the stuff that can be stored out in the shed, meaning my stuff, to make room for two years of toilet paper, two years of paper towels, a pallet of Irish Spring, enough coffee filters to last a lifetime, almonds, peanuts and walnuts up the ying-yang, enough canned vegetables to feed the hungry hoards a full year into the apocalypse … even though I have never known her to use canned vegetables … ever!
If the apocalypse should begin tomorrow, come to my house. You will find a truly prepared prepper because Her Royal Highness Princess Wife has resolved as much for me.
Resolutions smesolutions! I make no resolutions for 2018. Such things have been made for me. Come this time tomorrow I will be a spend-thrift who doesn’t play poker or explore bellybuttons or pop tops, has neat fingernails and enough food and toilet paper stored up for several years. Damn you, 2018! This is all I have learned today.

Rice Imports Will Stop This Year, Says Buhari

Channels Television
Updated January 1, 2018
President Buhari addressing the nation
 President Muhammadu Buhari has said Nigeria will stop rice imports this year.
The President said this in his New Year broadcast to Nigerians on Monday morning, while assuring Nigerians that the government “is slowly stabilising the economy”.
Government officials have repeatedly pointed to an upsurge in rice production as one of the signs that the current administration’s plans to diversify the economy was achieving the desired results.
The President shares the same view and is satisfied with the progress made. Beyond the economic implication of self-sufficiency in rice production, President Buhari also expects Nigerians to get nutritional benefits from locally produced rice.
“Two years ago I appealed to people to go back to the land. I am highly gratified that agriculture has picked up, contributing to the government’s effort to restructure the economy. Rice imports will stop this year. Local rice, fresher and more nutritious will be on our dishes from now on,” he said.
President Buhari explained that it was in order to change the steady and steep decline in the economy that the government adopted the more sustainable policies and programmes captured in the Economic Recovery Plan.
Although the President is satisfied that “diversification efforts have resulted in improved output particularly in agriculture and solid minerals sectors” and the relative exchange rate stability has improved manufacturing sector performance”, he believes more discipline is needed going forward.
“We have got to get used to discipline and direction in economic management,” he said, adding, “The days of business, as usual, are numbered”.
With unemployment at record levels in the country, the President is keen to see more enterprising people rising to the task of nation-building.
“I am today appealing to enterprising Nigerians with ideas and unemployed graduates and other able-bodied and literate men and women with ideas not to just sit and wait for employment from the government or the Organized Private Sector,” he said. “Great nations are built by enterprising people who turn their hands to anything that circumstances dictate.”

Consumers brace for higher prices

January 1, 2018, 12:05 AM

By The Business Section
Despite government assurances that the impact of the higher excise tax that took effect today, New Year 2018, will be short term, consumers, particularly the marginalized and those in the “laylayan” (fringes) will  have to bear the brunt of taxation.
Deputy BSP Gov. Diwa Guinigundo
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Deputy Governor Diwa C. Guinigundo said the package 1 of the governments’ comprehensive tax reform program (CTRP) under the Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act will add to inflation pressure particularly on fuel prices however the impact – based on their assessments – is short term in nature.
“We are indeed expecting some inflation pressure from TRAIN especially coming from the higher excise tax on fuel,” said Guinigundo. “That means the build up could be coming from the supply side. This argues for the BSP’s continued vigilance against potential second round effects from higher fuel taxes namely demand for higher transport fares and higher wages.”
Guinigundo said the central bank is prepared to adjust monetary policy “when these demand-driven secondary effects are triggered by higher taxes impinging on the supply side.”

As such, the BSP sees an adjustment of one percentage point (or up to 1.2 percentage point) to inflation rate next year and less than a half percentage point in 2019 with the new tax rules.
However, Guinigundo said the 35-percent tariff on rice and thereby scrapping the quantitative restriction (QR) on the staple commodity, will match any impact of the tax reform program over the long term. The removal of the QR will lower rice prices and in turn lower inflation rate by one percentage point.
“As I said and I say it again, a sure game changer is the proposed bill on tarrification of rice imports and elimination of quantitative restrictions on rice imports,” he remarked. “If this bill is approved into law, we should be seeing significant reduction on rice prices and on general average of consumer prices given that rice accounts for nearly nine percent of the total consumer basket.”
Guinigundo added that potential inflation risk from tax measures “can be matched by almost the same amount of consumer price reduction as a result of the rice tarrification bill.”

On the recommendation of the BSP, the inter-agency Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) will keep the current inflation target band of two percent to four percent until 2020.
Guinigundo said they are confident that growth alongside tax reforms would lead to a demand-side inflation which remains manageable based on their assessment.
“We need to go beyond these one-off, short-term impact of TRAIN on both inflation and growth,” he stressed. “Taxes are being raised to fund infrastructure and other social projects including better health and education. In short, we are all investing in order to increase the country’s productive capacity. We should be seeing further expansion of our potential output which should mitigate the collateral effect on inflation over the long run.”
With the National Government investing heavily on infrastructure development, the BSP expects the economy’s productive capacity “would help temper inflation pressures.”
The BSP is sure the current manageable inflation environment could be sustained over the medium term.
Oil Prices
All-time high oil price hikes of P2.50 to P3.00 per liter plus value-added tax (VAT) will whack consumers in the head at the strike of the New Year, due to the enforced excise tax increases under the TRAIN Act of the Duterte Administration.
As advised by the oil companies, gasoline prices will be up by P2.65 per liter plus 12 percent VAT so that runs up to P2.968 per liter hike; and diesel will increase by P2.50 per liter and with 12 percent VAT that will be P2.80 per liter jump in prices.
For kerosene which is a socially-sensitive commodity being used even in households of rural areas, the anticipated increase is P3.00 per liter plus 12 percent VAT, so that will sum up to P3.36 per liter; while for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), it will be an increase of R1.00 per kilogram or P11 for the standard 11-kilogram cylinder with additional VAT of P1.32/tank.
The TRAIN-induced increases will be on top of the estimated adjustments in prices this week as based on cost movements in the world market, according to the oil companies.
“As per TRAIN, the increases are due January 1, so it will be a paradoxical and agonizing ‘Happy New Year’ greeting to the consumers,” one oil firm has asserted.
The price hike increases under TRAIN will be roughly four-fold compared to when VAT was jacked up to 12-percent in 2006, with upward adjustments at the petroleum pumps then just at P0.55 to P0.70 per liter.
Historically, according to the oil industry players, the TRAIN price hikes would be “the most punishing one that will slap consumers in the face, which is ironically coming as they celebrate the New Year.”
For diesel, the increase will not just be felt directly by motorists, but will also impact eventually in electricity rates as this is the fuel that generally runs the peaking facilities in the country’s power system and also the technology deployment in many off-grid areas, according to the Department of Energy.
“Consumers then will be hit on three fronts: one, is with fuels filled up at gas pumps, two, in the generation rate component of the electric bills; and three, the subsidy component of power rates for the SPUG (Small Power Utilities Group) areas,” the energy department added. Cost impacts on power rates are still being calculated.
As culled from the DOF’s primer on fuel excise tax increases, it was stated that “based on the family income and expenditure survey in 2015, the top 10-percent richest households consume 51 percent of total fuel consumption.” AM, January 01, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 01, 2018

2017 marked by consumers' woes

Since early morning yesterday, Shaikh Masum Bellah has been recollecting the year that just passed by and the factors that affected his and his family's wellbeing.
And one such event was the spiralling prices of rice and the other essential commodities in 2017.
“As consumers, we had a painful year. We had to spend almost double of what we spent the previous year,” said Bellah, who works as manager of a shrimp wholesale depot at Rupsha, Khulna.
“Rice became dearer. Most of the vegetables were also beyond the reach of common people. Onion prices still remain high,” said the 40-year-old, giving a rough outline of the rise in the cost of his daily shopping basket.
Consequently, many low and fixed-income families like Bellah's had to shelve their plans to buy material things like clothes or furniture because of the high prices of essentials.
Many had to borrow to manage the necessities as income did not increase in line with the spiral in living costs, particularly the price of foodstuff.
“So, it was really a very tough year for consumers,” said Bellah, the sole breadwinner in a family of six.
Inflation, which is a measure of the consumer prices of a basket of commodities, began to rise from January last year after dipping to 5.03 percent in December 2016.
In October 2017, inflation stood at 6.4 percent, according to data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
Analysts linked the spiral to the food price hike in 2017, mainly of the staple rice.
For example, the retail price of a kilogramme of coarse rice was Tk 35.84 in January this year in Dhaka city, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.
The price of the coarse grain, mainly consumed by the low-income families, hit Tk 47.78 in September in Dhaka city for crop damage from recurrent floods and depleted public stocks, the FAO data shows.
Prices began to rise early this month once again after a marginal decline in September following increased imports upon cutbacks on import duty on the staple to 2 percent.    
Yesterday, the retail prices of coarse grain was Tk 44-46 per kilogramme, 6 percent higher from a month earlier and 23 percent from a year earlier, according to data collected by the state-run Trading Corporation of Bangladesh.
The prices of medium and fine grains yesterday were 22 percent and 30 percent higher year-on-year respectively.
The overall cost of living has risen about 7-8 percent in 2017 from a year ago, said Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan, general secretary of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh.
“Consumers suffered in 2017 for occasional increase in the prices of key commodities and services,” he said, while also citing the increase in the prices of electricity and gas.    
“Not only the poor and low-income people, we also had to bear the brunt of the high prices,” he said, adding that the government tried to curb the price hikes but could not succeed fully.
He echoed Bellah: people employed in the private sector did not see a rise in their income in line with the increase in the cost of living.
“We did not notice a surge in new employments during the outgoing year. In many instances, people lost jobs. Income and employment did not rise to that extent,” he added.
Citing the Labour Force Survey 2016 released by the BBS this year, Zahid Hussain, lead economist of the World Bank's Dhaka office, said data reflects a significant slowdown in job creation since 2013.
Bhuiyan thanked the government for not implementing the new VAT law that seeks to apply 15 percent uniform VAT on goods and services, doing away with the multiple rates.
“The imposition of a flat rate would have had a negative implication for us,” he said.
Quazi Shahabuddin, former director general of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said the increase in price of rice adversely affected the food security of the poor and low-income people.
“Rice prices rose to a high level partly because of natural disasters and partly for delayed response by the government.”
He went on to cite the reduction of import duty twice to increase the supply of the grain and augment public stocks as an example of the government's not too brisk response.
“The duty could have been reduced earlier to curb spike. Had this been done, the sufferings of the low-income people would have been less.”
It appears that the government responses were delayed from a sense of complacency because they did not see any crisis in recent years, Shahabuddin said.
Foodgrain stocks at public godowns dipped to as low as 5.61 lakh tonnes, including rice which reached 2.45 lakh tonnes in May, one of the lowest in recent years.
The government started importing in the second half of the year to replenish stocks to intervene in the market and slashed duty to facilitate private sector imports. On December 27, cereal stock was 7.67 lakh tonnes. Of that, stock of rice was 4.73 lakh tonnes.
Rice imports by both public and private sector rose to 15 times year-on-year to 21.55 lakh tonnes in July-December of the current fiscal, according to food ministry data.
Yet, prices remain high for increased import costs and speculations that the ongoing Aman harvesting period was witnessing a reduction in yield.
BIDS DG KAS Murshid said the increased prices of rice have affected people's expenditure on non-rice items. “There is an adverse implication on dietary diversity and nutrition.”
The year ended on a pessimistic note as various indicators such as exports and the performance of banking sector were not encouraging. 
“Overall, it is giving rise to some concerns and worries,” he added.
M Asaduzzaman, distinguished fellow of BIDS, said farmers received relatively better prices in 2017.
“Poor people suffered but the prices were not beyond their tolerable limit,” he said, while forecasting the prices of cereal to drop once a bumper boro is harvested.
Economists suggested the government focus on bagging a record boro crop this year by ensuring timely availability of fertiliser, diesel and electricity as well as extension services to farmers' doorstep.
Bhuiyan also said he was expecting the government to be active enough to take measures to keep the prices stable ahead of the national elections.
“There is big difference in prices between the wholesale and retail markets. The government should monitor the market regularly and take steps to reduce the gap. This will be helpful for us.”

Congress to approve business-friendly bills

Leaders of the House of Representatives vowed to pass early this year all pending measures that would help promote the Philippines as a business-friendly economy.
The top priorities include the ease of doing business bill, “Part B” of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN), the measure seeking to abolish quantitative restriction (QR) on rice and the bill seeking to amend the 1987 Constitution.
The lower chamber is seen focusing on its legislative priorities despite the hearings on the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes A. Sereno.
House Committee on Trade and Industry Chairman Ferjenel Biron of the Fourth District of Iloilo said the congressional bicameral conference committee tackling the proposal seeking to establish a national policy on ease of doing business will consolidate the Senate and House versions when session resumes on January 15.
Biron said the measure is needed to simplify issuances of licenses, clearances or permits to business entities. Earlier, the World Bank released its “Ease of Doing Business Report 2018,” which showed the country’s ranking at 113th, from 99th in the 2017 edition.
“The purpose of this bill is to provide an easy, simple, straightforward and trouble-free avenue for entrepreneurs, micro, small and medium businesses and ordinary citizens who would like to venture into business in the country,” Biron said.
Rep. Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte Jr.  of the Second District of Camarines Sur, one of the authors of the bill, said the Philippines ranked as the second-most favored destination for foreign direct investments in Southeast Asia.
However, Villafuerte said the Philippines’s rank in ease of doing business is one of the lowest in the world in 2017, at 171st, out of 185 countries. The House version of the bill aims to provide a business environment that is conducive for the establishment and operation of enterprises in the country.
The measure also intends to promote transparency in the government with regard to business registration and other manner of public transactions, to reduce red tape and expedite permitting, licensing and other similar transactions in the government.
It seeks to ensure timely and expeditious processing of business requirements by national government agencies (NGAs) and local government units (LGUs).
The bill calls for the creation of the National Policy in the Ease of Doing Business, which is a comprehensive and regulatory management policy to improve competitiveness and ease undue bureaucratic and regulatory burden to business entities.
It also provides for the creation of the Ease of Doing Business Commission, an attached agency of the Office of the President, which shall be the policy-making body on business registration and regulatory management and shall set the overall direction for the implementation of the National Policy on Ease of Doing Business.
It mandates further that the prescribed processing time shall in no case be longer than one working day for barangay governments.
For NGAs and LGUs approving a simple application, the prescribed processing time shall be three working days while, for national government agencies and LGUs in case of complex applications, the prescribed processing time shall be 10 working days from the time of receipt of the application.
For special types of businesses that require clearances, accreditation, or licenses issued by government agencies, including regulatory agencies as provided for by law, where technical evaluation or such necessary condition is required in the processing of license, clearances or permits, the prescribed processing time shall in no case be longer than 30 working days or as determined by the government agency or instrumentality concerned, whichever is shorter.
Tax package
Rep. Dakila Carlo E.  Cua of the Lone District of Quirino, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, said Congress will pass in the first quarter of 2018 Part B of Package 1 of the TRAIN.
Cua said Part B of Package 1 will focus on the amnesty package, which include the estate tax amnesty and a general tax amnesty.
The proposed adjustments in the Motor Vehicle Users Charge and amendments to the bank secrecy law and automatic exchange of information are also included in the Part B of Package 1 of TRAIN.
Currently, there are separate pending bills in the lower chamber seeking for estate tax amnesty, a general tax amnesty and amendments to the bank secrecy law. The Part A of the TRAIN Act, which is the first of five tax packages of the Duterte administration, is targeting to raise P130 billion in revenues to finance the administration’s infrastructure program.
Rice tariffication
House Committee on Agriculture and Food Chairman Jose T. Panganiban Jr. of Anac-IP said lawmakers will also start discussing the measure scrapping the rice QR and converting it into tariffs at the plenary early this year. The passage of the bill allowing the tariffication of rice is included in the priority bills identified as urgent by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council.
The House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Agriculture and Food have already endorsed the measure for plenary approval before Congress went on a Christmas break.
The House Committee on Agriculture and Food has set the bound tariff rate for rice imports outside the minimum access volume (MAV) at 180 percent.
Under the bill, the Philippines will impose a bound tariff rate of 35 percent for rice originating from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations  regardless of its volume. Manila would also impose a 40-percent bound tariff most-favored nation rate for in-quota rice imports from countries outside the Asean.
Once the substitute bill is enacted into law, the country’s MAV for rice shall revert to its 2012 level at 350,000 metric tons (MT), from the current 805,000 MT.
The Philippines is under pressure to convert its QR on rice into ordinary Customs duties after its waiver on the special treatment on rice expired on June 30. The World Trade Organization (WTO) General Council approved the waiver, which allowed Manila to keep its rice QR until June 30, on the condition that the Philippines will subject its rice imports to ordinary Customs duties by July 1.
In March the Philippines informed WTO members that it is facing delays in converting the QR because it has not amended RA 8178, which imposed the import caps on rice indefinitely. As a sign of “goodwill” to its trading partners, President Duterte signed Executive Order 23 in July to extend the concessions made by the Philippines in securing the waiver in 2014.
Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez said Congress will convene into a constituent assembly in 2018 to craft a new constitution that would pave the way for the shift to a federal form of government, in line with one of the President’s campaign promises.
Alvarez said leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate agreed to meet to lay down their timetable and determine the best time for Congress to convene into a constituent assembly (Con-ass) for the purpose of drafting a new federal constitution.
The House committee on constitutional amendments has created four  technical working groups (TWGs), which will draft the Philippine Federal Constitution.
The PDP Federalism Institute also turned over to the committee the draft “Constitution of the Federal Republic of the Philippines,” for consideration by the various TWGs created by the House panel.
Rep. Roger G. Mercado of the Lone District of Southern Leyte, chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Reforms, has called for the swift adoption of House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 9 convening Congress into a constituent assembly. The HCR 9, consolidates 29 various bills and resolutions calling for the immediate revision of the 1987 Constitution.
Mercado said the high public trust ratings of Duterte is a strong reason to push for the proposal.
“We have conducted nine hearings and four public consultations nationwide, which showed that there is a need to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution,” Mercado added. He said Con-ass is the most practical, least expensive and fastest mode of amending the Constitution.
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Rodolfo C. Fariñas Sr. of Ilocos Norte said a total of 8,528 bills have been filed since the 17th Congress opened in July 2016, with the figure representing 6,911 House Bills (HB) and 1,617 House Resolutions (HR).
Fariñas said the House processed a total of 2,100 measures in the past 145 session days of the First Regular Session and since its opening for the Second Regular Session of the 17th Congress, or an average of 14 measures processed per day.
As of December 14, 2017, he said there were 39 measures enacted into law, which include:
■  The 2018 General Appropriations Act.
■  The “Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion” bill.
■  HB 5670,“An Act Strengthening Assistance To All Farmers By Providing Free Irrigation Service Fee And All Other Similar Or Related Fees Or Charges.”
■ HB 4863, “An Act Strengthening The Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation And Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) By Restoring Its Authority To Issue Subpoena Ad Testificandum Or Subpoena Duces Tecum.”
■  “An Act Declaring December 8 Of Every Year A Special Non-Working Holiday In The Entire Country To Commemorate The Feast Of The Immaculate Conception Of Mary, The Principal Patroness Of The Philippines.”
Meanwhile, measures that are still pending in the bicameral committee are:
■  HB 684, “An Act Amending Republic Act 53, As Amended, Otherwise Known As ‘An Act To Exempt The Publisher, Editor Or Reporter Of Any Publication From Revealing The Source Of Published News Or Information Obtained In Confidence’ “By Including Within Its Coverage Journalists From Broadcast, News Agencies And Internet Publications.”
■  HB 6452, “An Act Establishing A National Mental Health Policy For The Purpose Of Enhancing The Delivery Of Integrated Mental Health Services, Promoting And Protecting The Rights Of Persons Utilizing Psychiatric, Neurologic And Psychosocial Health Services  And Appropriating Funds Therefor.”
Meanwhile, for enrollment is HB 6016, “Act Regulating The Issuance, Use And Redemption Of Gift Checks, Gift Certificates And Gift Cards.” The House also adopted Senate Bill 209, “An Act Declaring The Twenty-Fifth Day Of August Of Every Year As The National Tech-Voc Day.”
Other major accomplishments of the House include the approval on third and final reading of 354 bills; adoption of 100 resolutions, including those calling for motu proprio inquiry; consolidation/substitution of 1,017 measures; and referral of 549 resolution on inquiries.
The lower chamber has adopted several resolutions, which include HR 1050, expressing full support for the President for declaring martial law in Mindanao; Resolutions on Impeachment, HR 1015 dismissing the impeachment complaint against Duterte and HR 1397 dismissing the impeachment complaint filed by Jacinto Paras and Ferdinand Topacio against Commission on Elections Chairman Andres D. Bautista; Resolutions of Both House 11 extending martial law in Mindanao or Proclamation 216 until December 2018.
Third reading
Among the bills and resolutions approved by the House on third reading, and awaiting Senate action, are:
■  HB 5811, “Act Providing For A Magna Carta Of The Poor.”
■  HB 691, “An Act Simplifying The Procedure In The Disposition Of Public Agricultural Lands.”
■  HB 5750, “An Act Defining The Offenses Of Discharge Of Firearms And Indiscriminate Firing Of Firearms And Providing Stiffer Penalties Therefor.”
■  HB 5792, “Institutionalizing The Balik Scientist Program And Appropriating Funds Therefor.”
■  HB 5818 “An Act Regulating The Practice Of Employers In Posting Notices Of Termination Of Employment Of Former Employees In Newspapers, Social Media And Other Public Information Venues.”
■  HB 6024 , “An Act Recognizing The Observance Of July 25 Of Every Year As The National Campus Press Freedom Day.”
■  HB 6152, “An Act Increasing The Normal Work Hours Per Day Under A Compressed Work
Week Scheme.”
■  HB 5675, “An Act Allowing The Rectification Of Simulated Birth Records And Prescribing Administrative Adoption Proceedings For The Purpose.”
■  HB 6112,  “Act Mandating The Installation Of Safety Monitoring Devices In Public Utility Vehicles And Providing Penalties For Violation Thereof.”
■  HB 5784, HB 5784, “An Act Providing Universal Health Care For All Filipinos And Appropriating Funds Therefor.”
■  HB 5828, “An Act Providing For The Definition Of Public Utility, Further Amending For The Purpose Commonwealth Act 146, Otherwise Known As The Public Service Act, As Amended.”
■  HB 6221, “An Act Establishing The Filipino Identification System.”
■  HB 6177, “An Act Rationalizing The Income Requirements For The Creation Of A Municipality, The Declaration Of Highly Urbanized Status In The Case Of Component Cities And The Creation Of A Province.”
■  HB 6283, “An Act Recognizing The Observance Of November 17 Of Every Year As National Students’ Day.”
■  HB 4982, “An Act Prohibiting Discrimination On The Basis Of Sexual Orientation Or Gender Identity Or Expression And Providing Penalties Therefor.”
■  HB 5747, “An Act Establishing The Coconut Farmers And Industry Development Trust Fund And Providing For Its Management And Utilization.”
■  HB 6276, “An Act Ensuring The Continuous And Uninterrupted Transmission And Distribution Of Electricity, The Protection Of The Integrity And Reliability Of The Transmission And Distribution Systems, And The Promotion Of Public Safety, And Providing Penalties In Violation Thereof.”
■  HB 5777, “An Act Strengthening The National And Local Health And Nutrition Programs For Pregnant And Lactating Women, Adolescent Girls Of Reproductive Age And Teen-Age Mothers, Infants And Young Children In The First 1,000 Days, And Appropriating Funds Therefor.”
■  HB 5799, “An Act Reverting Fish Ponds Which Have Been Unutilized Or Abandoned For A Period Of Three Years To Forest Lands.”
■  HB 1530, “An Act Requiring Government Agencies To Indicate The Blood Type Of Individuals In The Identification Cards, Certificates And Licenses.”
■  HB 6396, “An Act Instituting Policies For The Protection And Welfare Of Caregivers In The Practice Of Their Profession.”
■  HB 6571, “An Act Establishing A Medical Scholarship And Return Service Program For Deserving Students And Appropriating Funds Therefor.”
■  HB 6589, “An Act Rationalizing The Requirements Imposed By The Department Of Agrarian Reform Regarding Land Registration To Facilitate Speed And Efficiency In Land Registration.”
■  HB 6590, ”An Act Amending Section 13 Of Republic Act No. 3019, As Amended, Entitled The ‘Anti-Graft And Corrupt Practices Act.”
■  HB 6578, “An Act Establishing A Retirement Benefit System In The Office Of The Ombudsman, Augmenting Its Employee Benefits, And Appropriating Funds Therefor.”
■  HB 159, “An Act Strengthening The Right Of Government To Expropriate Lands For Socialized Housing.”
■ HB 6550, “An Act Instituting The Magna Carta Of Day Care Workers And Providing Funds Therefor.”
■  HB 6557, “An Act Promoting Open Access In Data Transmission, Providing Additional Powers To The National Telecommunications Commission.”
■  HB 6558, “An Act Strengthening The Powers Of The National Telecommunications Commission, Amending For The Purpose Republic Act  7925, Otherwise Known As The Public Telecommunications Policy Act Of The Philippines.”
■  HB 6572, “An Act Institutionalizing The Philippine Qualifications Framewor, Establishing The National Coordinating Council  And Appropriating Funds Therefor.”
■ HB 1616, “An Act Exempting The System Loss Charge Component In The Sale Of Electricity By Distribution Companies And Electric Cooperatives From The Coverage Of The Value Added Tax.”
■HB 6570, “An Act Prohibiting Leaving Children Below Eight Years Old Unattended In Motor Vehicles.”
■  HB 6617, “Act Strengthening The Philippine Comprehensive Policy On Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) And Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome [Aids] Prevention, Treatment, Care And Support, And Establishing The Philippine National HIV And Aids Plan”.
■  HB 6604, “An Act Regulating The Rates Of Political Propaganda On Television, Radio And Print During An Electoral Campaign Period.”
■ HB 6702, “An Act Regulating The Importation, Manufacture, Distribution And Sale Of Children’s Products Containing Hazardous Chemicals, And Providing Penalties For Violation Thereof.”
■  HB 6714, “An Act Regulating The Practice Of Food Technology In The Philippines, Creating For The Purpose The Board Of Food Technology, And Appropriating Funds Therefor.”
■  HB 3222, “An Act Establishing A National Vision Screening Program For Kindergarten Pupils And Appropriating Funds Therefor.”
■ House Joint Resolution 18, “Joint Resolution Authorizing The Increase In Base Pay Of Military And Uniformed Personnel In The Government, And For Other Purposes.”

Booming agric, bumper growth

DANIEL ESSIET On: January 1, 2018
Experts expect the agricultural sector to gain momentum this year, boost incomes, complement the continued fiscal stimulus and an upturn in merchandise exports. This, however, will depend on policy reforms to promote   services liberalisation, and public infrastructure management. DANIEL ESSIET reports.
To experts, agriculture will yield substantial growth and more revenues this year.
They  based  their projection on  an enabling environment that would support  economic growth, strong fiscal consolidation, low account deficit, growing foreign direct investment (FDI), low inflation and higher wages in rural areas.
Above all, they said, these would depend on the Federal Government’s ability to sustain its reform’s momentum.
Speaking with The Nation, Vice-Chancellor Federal University of Agriculture (FUNAAB), Abeokuta, Prof Felix Kolawole Salako, said the reforms will lead to higher long-run growth.
He noted that the government efforts to liberalise the agricultural sector and foster a friendly investment climate will help attract investment flows.
According to him, the Federal Government has put its full weight behind a national strategy designed to make food  production an even larger engine of inclusive economic growth.
Salako said steps taken by the government to  support sustainable rice production  will improve food security and livelihoods, while also safeguarding natural resources.
Despite some hiccups, Salako believes that continued reform progress will help the country remain one of most dynamic emerging economies.
According to him, the Ogun State and the Federal Government have convened a multi-stakeholder effort to refine key elements of the strategy, which includes developing rice varieties with high export value, adopting advanced crop management techniques, and more intensive use of machines and other technologies in rice farming.
Citing Ogun, Salako said the state is working to help farmers participate in “viable, safe and dignified” entrepreneurial opportunities in the rice value chain.
Cocoa Association of Nigeria(CAN) Board of Trustees Chairman,  Dr. Victor Iyama,  expects this year to be that of consolidation – with the results of all policy initiatives taken beginning to take shape.
He said the agricultural sector will remain the biggest  job creator. This is because the sector is significantly improving both in terms of its output and its diversification.
According to him,  the agricultural sector had been the biggest positive contributor to the growth.
In 2016, agriculture was recorded as the top performing sector with the growth of 4.54 percent, again repeating its performance of a 4.53 percent  growth in Q2.
Last year, from 3.4 per cent in Q1 to 3.0 per cent in Q2, the sector grew to 12.5 per cent y/y in nominal terms, compared to 9.8 per cent in Q1’17.
Iyama, also the Federation of Agricultural Commodity Association of Nigeria(FACAN) President, said more youths would be attracted to agriculture  as there are  initiatives to get them to learn to adapt solutions in their areas of interest, as well as receive hands-on training to bring transformational change to their communities through agriculture.
National Cashew Association of Nigeria(NCAN) Publicity Secretary, Anga Sotonye, noted that  there would be more emphasis on access to credit and financing. This stems from the awareness that more funds, in terms of both loans and grants, need to be supplied to the sector for it to reach its full potential.
Sotonye said the economy might be off to a good start this year with improved exports pushing growth prospects.
According to experts, government interventions are expected to create new opportunities for people in communities and increasing family incomes.

There are many   programmes to fund agriculture. These include the Rice Intervention Fund, a loan programme targeting processing facilities; the Agricultural Credit Support Scheme; the Fund for Agricultural Finance in Nigeria, which works with small and medium-sized enterprises; the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme; and the Nigerian Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL).

Export expansion grant scheme
The Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) has resumed processing baseline data for the reintroduced Export Expansion Grant (EEG) scheme.
Sotonye expects the Federal Government to re-introduce the EEG scheme this year  to salvage the agro exports sector.
According to him, the policy will led to an increase in value chain expansion in terms of agro processing which resulted in significant new investments and job creation.

The Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) was introduced to provide affordable financing to actors in the agricultural value chains. Recently, the CBN initiated a public-private sector initiative with the Bankers’ Committee and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to provide N75billion as loan to farmers under the scheme.

The Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS)
To enhance the Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme (CACS) as well as mitigate the risks faced by financial institutions in financing the agriculture sector, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has reviewed the guidelines for the scheme.
The review affected sections 16 and 17 of the guidelines and introduced significant changes, including a requirement that, henceforth, the Nigeria Agriculture Insurance Corporation (NAIC) should provide insurance for all agricultural facilities/projects under the CACS in line with the NAIC Act.
In furtherance of the revision, the CBN has directed the commencement of insurance premium payments by borrowers under the CACS scheme.  The CBN has so far released N501.697 billion under CACS. The fund was deployed to boost 526 agriculture projects across the country. Total repayment under the scheme was N251.156 billion for 526 projects, of which 281 projects had been repaid by last September

Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP)
The  Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP) is the government’s flagship agricultural financing initiative.
Launched in the last quarter of 2015, the programme offers loans and farm input to smallholder farmers producing key crops  to scale up and commercialise their operations, and connect them with large-scale processors.
The CBN believes the ABP will have a dramatic impact on the local economy, and has set a target of creating at least one million jobs in the processing segment through the scheme by 2020.

Rice production
The Executive Director, Risk Management and Finance, Bank of Agriculture (BOA), Prince Niyi Akenzua, said Nigeria has saved over N216 billion from rice import from Thailand and other countries, since the nation’s domestic mass production flooded the markets under the ABP.
Akenzua disclosed this in Ibadan when he led some officials of the bank on a visit to Oyo State Governor Abiola Ajimobi. He said the figure represented a fraction of a staggering $22 billion (N7.92 trillion) spent on food imports yearly prior to the advent of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
He said: “The pilot scheme was so successful that $600million was saved from rice importation due to massive rice production in the country.
“One or two rice millers in Thailand have closed down because Nigeria, which has always been their major importer, has stopped importing their rice.”
Also  states, such  as  Lagos,  Kebbi, Ogun and Kano, have been in the forefront in rice production.
Ogun has intensified the production of Ofada rice.
Governor Ibikunle Amosun said the  state can produce and process about 65, 700 metric tons of Ofada rice yearly, with a strong intention to expand production in no distant time to create more direct and indirect jobs in Ogun state.
“We are intensifying our contribution to the attainment of the Federal Government efforts in increasing domestic rice production,” ,he said during the commissioning of MITROS Ofada rice in Abeokuta recently.
The CBN also has formed strategic partnerships with agricultural commodity associations to expand the implementation of ABP.
Its  Acting Director Corporate Communications Department (CCD), Isaac Okorafor, said the strategic partnership had begun to yield results with the commencement of the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) Anchor Borrowers’ Programme with the Bank of Agriculture where about 300,000 rice farmers across 20 States would be supported under the ABP during the upcoming dry season cultivation.
The ABP has, so far, achieved success in terms of outreach and coverage, making it one of the most successful CBN development finance interventions to date. About N45.5 billion has been released through 13 Participating Financial Institutions for over 218,000 farmers cultivating nine commodities across 30 states.
Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, said Nigeria will attain self-sufficiency in rice production  this year. According to him, Nigeria is inching closer to self-sufficiency in rice production due to the successes in the local production.
Muhammed cited a report by a Thai rice export association to support his claim.”In fact, the Thailand Rice Exporters Association revealed that within just two years – from September 2015 to last September, Nigeria’s rice import dropped from 644,131 Metric tonnes to just about 21,000MT.
“There is more good news to report: The increased rice production has, in turn, led to the establishment of rice mills, including the 120,000MT WACOT Mill in Kebbi and the 1,000,000MT Dangote Rice Mill,” Mohammed said.
Mohammed added that Nigeria targets the production of seven million metric tonnes of rice  this year

Thailand to establish rice milling plants
Mohammed said: “Thailand have shown interest in establishing rice milling plants in Nigeria, and this is sure to further boost rice production.’’

According to experts, agriculture has continued to face several impediments in the form of lower capacity, regulatory and policy challenges and corporate debt overhang. However, the push to increase infrastructure spending and to accelerate structural reforms will eventually drive a sustained rebound of private investments. However, credit growth, particularly to industry remains weak.
NIRSAL Managing Director, Mr Aliyu Abdulhameed has lamented that Nigeria lacks the full capital to actualise its potentials in agriculture.
At the first yearly NACCIMA-NIRSAL Agribusiness and Policy Linkage Conference with the theme: Implementing the agriculture component of the Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP) in Abuja, Abdulhameed noted that this development  threatens the ERGP, which aims at increasing yeraly agricultural growth from 2011-2015 output of 4.1 per cent to 8.3 per cent by December 2020.
According to him, “We are naturally endowed with land, water, climate and the market and at very competitive levels, but we lack the full capital to actualise these opportunities. To leap frog the development as desired by the agricultural sector, fully identified actors have to be attracted into Nigeria.”
He said though the country lacked the funds for infrastructure, logistics, storage and processing, NIRSAL was established to share all  funding risks across the value chain.

Poor input
Experts say except the government does something, farmers will still face the challenge of poor input that will result in declining yields across key crops. They say  yield growth can only be  achieved by increasing input, and by improving input productivity through the use of technology.
Farmers recorded low yield of most key crops, including cassava, cocoa beans and palm fruits, a reflection of low utilisation of improved seedlings, agrochemicals and poor adoption of technology.

Infrastructure challenges
Food transporters said with bad roads, which compound their problem, they lose lives and goods worth between N250 million and N300million weekly, which consequently affects prices of food items in the market. They said most of the roads connecting farm gates to cities are in bad shape, stressing that unless the government starts massive rehabilitation, the prices of food will continue to soar. The food transporters explained: “If roads are fixed and made motorable, prices of food would come down and that would also reduce post-harvest losses and waste because a lot of food items perish at the farm gates due to this problem.
“For instance, the Jebba Bridge has been damaged due to lack of maintenance and rehabilitation and trucks cannot ply the road from the North to Lagos, and they have to go through the Abuja-Lokoja Road to Lagos, which is also in a deplorable condition and this has further made food dealers and vendors to record high losses of goods and lives. Even the road from Niger to Oyo is impassable and is in terrible condition.”

According to global research and consultancy firm, Oxford Business Group (OBG),  despite any adverse developments in the country, it remains a key investment destination in Africa.
Speaking during the launch of its new report titled: “The Report: Nigeria 2017”, OBG Editor-in-Chief, Mr. Oliver Cornock, stated: “Nigeria remains an appealing destination for investors and the fact that growth has begun to pick up following a slower period for the economy will provide the country with a welcome boost, as its efforts to develop and diversify the economy gains pace.”
He saids the report explored moves to boost industrialisation and diversification, to steer the country towards economic revival. The report further explored some areas of the economy that have remained resilient in difficult times, such as agriculture, which has become a major employer and is benefiting from the relaxing of lending constraints. The report also examined the key part that a regulatory overhaul should play in helping to tackle the challenges that the sectors face ahead of the implementation of new infrastructure programme, while analysing the government’s far-reaching plans to modernise the country’s long-neglected public transport system. It considered both the opportunities that the project pipeline will signal for investors and the difficulties in bringing the private sector on board for ventures.

N118.98b budgetary allocation to agric
As part of its commitment to diversify the economy, the Federal Government has proposed N118.98billion as budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector this year.
This amount, however, is an improvement on the N103.79 billion allotted to the sector in 2017 budget.
Meanwhile, analysts said to achieve economic diversification, with a large land mass of 923,768 km² and many Nigerians venturing into farming, it is essential that the government  revisits its commitment made 15 years ago in the Maputo Declaration, a pledge by African heads of state and government to allocate 10 per cent of their national budgets to the agric sector as part of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).

CBN offers five per cent interest rate  on agro equipment
The CBN considers the next phase of the credit scheme, which will centre on cheap funding for importers and fabricators of agro-allied machines.
At the launch of local Ofada Rice tagged, ‘MITROS Rice’ produced by the Ogun State government, CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele, declared: “We are going to be looking at providing cheap funding at no more than five per cent  for those who are going to be assessing facilities to acquire agric equipment like threshers, like harvesters, or those who will be going to fish farming, or those who will be going into feed mills. Be rest assured that if you identify yourself, you will be counted and we will support you.”
Emefiele declared that the next phase of credit scheme by the apex bank would be a graduation from small holder farmers to the importers and fabricators of agro-allied machines.

Just Jasmine: Lamb and vegetable biryani


A real biryani is a traditional measure of skill in the Indian kitchen – everyone has got their own style and everyone’s grandma makes ‘the best one’. This recipe avoids the culinary stress while still giving you a biryani-style experience. For a veggie-only variant (a great dish to clear out the fridge in one go!), double the veggies and raisins, add a few carrots and increase the cumin very slightly. Serve the veggie version at lunchtime with yoghurt and nuts. For some flair at a dinner party I like to fry off an onion slowly until soft and then on a higher heat until browned, adding some raisins and cashews to sauté at the end. Use to garnish the top along with some extra fresh herbs.
 3 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
750g lamb (neck or shoulder) cut into 5cm cubes
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground turmeric
5cm piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
½ large leek, finely chopped
¾ tsp sea salt
seeds of 5 cardamom pods, ground
 1 bay leaf
1 large cinnamon stick
200ml water
½ large head of cauliflower (300g), cut into florets
1 aubergine, cubed
150g fresh or frozen peas
30g raisins
320g white basmati rice, rinsed
butter, for greasing
handful of coriander or mint leaves, plus extra for serving
·       Heat 1 tablespoon of the ghee in a large ceramic-lined or seasoned cast-iron frying pan. Add half the lamb and brown it all over. Remove and repeat with the second batch. Set aside.
·       In the same pan, melt the remaining ghee over a medium heat. Sauté the coriander seeds, peppercorns and cumin seeds for a few minutes until they start to pop. Add the garam masala and turmeric and sauté for a few minutes. Add the ginger and leek and fry for a minute before adding the lamb, salt, cardamom, bay leaf, cinnamon stick and water.
·       Bring to the boil, cover and cook for 1 hour-1 hour 10 minutes. Check that the lamb is tender. Add the cauliflower and aubergine, and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the peas and raisins.
·       Meanwhile, cook the rice according to the packet instructions.
·       Preheat the oven to 200C (fan 180C/ gas 6). Grease a large lidded baking dish (around 25cm x 40cm in size) with butter. Spoon in one third of the rice, cover with half of the lamb curry and sprinkle with half of the fresh coriander or mint. Repeat these layers again. Finally, add the remaining rice to the dish and dot with a little more butter. At this stage, the dish can be refrigerated for a few hours, then cooked when you’re ready.
·       Place in the oven and heat through for 15 minutes if it is freshly prepared, or up to 40 minutes if you are cooking from cold. Serve hot, garnished with extra coriander and mint.


DA research vessel delivers rice, corn to Vinta-hit areas

Dec 31 2017 09:55 AM
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources temporarily converted one of its research vessels into a cargo ship to deliver rice and corn to farmers hit by back-to-back tropical cyclones in Visayas and Mindanao, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said Sunday.
"In the absence of commercial vessels to ferry the seeds from Luzon to Visayas and Mindanao, the research ship of BFAR, M/V DYCA DA-BFAR, was converted into a cargo ship so the seeds could be delivered quickly to allow the farmers to be able to replant," Piñol said in a statement.
"Most of the crops destroyed by the typhoons were just planted and with the fast delivery of seeds and farm inputs, the farmers could immediately replant and catch up with the planting calendar," he said.
Piñol said the provisions for typhoon-hit farmers are expected to arrive at the Port of Dapitan on January 2.
Agriculture damage due to tropical storm Urduja is pegged at P581.4 million, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council spokesperson Romina Marasigan said last week.
Tropical storm Vinta's wrath resulted in agricultural losses amounting to P7.8 million in agriculture in Agusan del Sur alone, she said.


Bernas brushes aside claims of monopoly, neglecting local farmers

 | December 31, 2017
Bernas disputes allegations by Padi Rescue that it has increased imports of cheap low-grade rice for profits and caused local rice millers to shut down.
PETALING JAYA: Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas) has denied allegations by a coalition of NGOs representing farmers that it is a monopoly that has failed to protect and promote the local industry, and has unduly favoured cheaper imported rice to escalate its own profits.
The national rice corporation told the Straits Times (ST) of Singapore that it purchased only around 30% of the total paddy produced in the country, with the rest processed by other rice millers.
It said in a ST report that it had not sought to sideline locally produced rice.
It said its nationwide deduction rate of 23.6%, for portions of products produced by farmers that are rejected for impurities, was far lower than that alleged by Padi Rescue, an NGO.
The report said as part of its social obligations Bernas was required to act as the buyer of last resort for locally grown paddy.
“At times, we have purchased rejected paddy of zero commercial value from farmers,” Bernas was quoted as saying.
On Nov 29, parliamentary opposition leader and PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail had urged the government to take steps to stop Bernas from initiating legal action against Padi Rescue in connection with its memorandum submitted to the prime minister on Oct 20.
The memorandum had called for the re-establishment of the National Paddy and Rice Board (LPN), whose functions Bernas had taken over in 1994, to regulate the national rice industry.
Bernas, which is controlled by tycoon Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, is currently the sole permit holder of rice imports in Malaysia.
According to the ST report, Padi Rescue also claimed that Bernas had increased imports of cheap low-grade rice and caused small-scale rice millers to shut down by monopolising the rice production chain.
It alleged that Bernas had not helped farmers and millers to improve their lives economically, preferring instead to focus on maximising its own profits.
Bernas was quoted as saying that it had been fulfilling its role to assist farmers and millers by providing financial loans and aid schemes for millers, and that its profits were justified as they were ploughed back to fund these programmes.
Meanwhile, Amir Fareed Rahim, a political analyst at KRA Group, was quoted as saying that paddy farmers and staple commodities were very sensitive issues, especially for the rural vote bank in the Malay heartland.
“It is a critical issue for BN (Barisan Nasional) to try to resolve, especially since Kedah – the country’s rice bowl – is a swing state and one of the battlefronts in the upcoming election,” he said.
“Silence without attempting to resolve it will be very dangerous (for the ruling BN),” he added.

As Ogun rises to the rice challenge

The determined drive of the current administration to diversify the economy from the mono-product of oil to agriculture has started to yield the desired fruits. The recent unveiling of the MITROS Rice Processing factory by the forward-looking Governor Ibikunle Amosun in Ogun State amply attests to that. The rice, packaged in 50kg bags, is produced at Egua land in Yewa South Local Government Area of the state, while the processing and packaging facilities are sited in Asero area of Abeokuta, the state capital. Good enough, it comes with an affordable market price of N11,500. This initiative is truly commendable.
As rightly noted by the governor, the rice production would boost food supply, reduce dependency on imported ones while the mill would create jobs for the farmers, millers and marketers in the state. In addition, the rice farmers in the state would no longer have to travel far in search of milling facilities.
Furthermore, he frowned at the sad scenario of huge import dependency especially on products we could easily produce locally. Said he:“This has weighed heavily on the nation’s economy as it exerted pressure on foreign reserves and value of the naira with attendant needless outsourcing of agricultural work to distant countries.” According to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele Nigeria spent a whopping $2.41 billion on rice importation between 2012 and 2015. Surely, we cannot continue to tread on this long-winding path of economic slavery.
Not long ago one had cause to applaud the synergy between Lagos and Kebi states for coming up with Lake Rice project. This addition from Ogun state has further increased the tempo of inward looking to deploy our resources and unleash our agricultural potentials. Recent feelers indicate that rice importers from Asian countries and their accomplice smugglers are already bemoaning their fate.
As earlier highlighted in a previous, related piece on rice production in Nigeria, agric experts posited that Nigeria was capable of producing 18 million metric tonnes of rice but our farmers yielded a paltry 3.2 million tonnes. That was n 2003. But statistics a year before in 2002 claimed that we were spending, or rather wasting a whopping N60 billion (Naira) yearly on rice importation. In fact, Nigerian rice merchants imported 24 million metric tons of rice valued at $8.86 billion (N1.77 trillion) from Thailand, Pakistan, India, United States and Vietnam in the last 10 years, it has been gathered.
In January 2006, the price of the commodity soared from $284.45 to $369 per metric ton. Statistics revealed that in 2006, the country imported 1.5 million metric tons; 1.8 million metric tons in 2007; 1.75 million tons in 2008; 1.75 million metric tons in 2009 and 2.4 million metric tons in 2010. In 2011, the nation also imported 3.2 million tons; 2.8 million tons in 2012; 2.8 million tons in 2013; 3.5 million tons in 2014 and 2.5 million tons in 2015.
In all honesty, Governor Amosun deserves commendation by taking the bull by the horn because the state, created in 1976 with a land mass of 16,981 km² bordered by Lagos State to the south, Oyo and Osun states to the north, Ondo to the east and the Republic of Benin to the west should have no business depending on foreign food items, including rice for survival. It boasts of major food crops include rice, maize, cassava, yam and banana. Others are cocoa, kola nut, rubber, palm oil and palm kernels.
One other aspect of the rice project in Ogun state is the element of trust. Earlier in the year the state’s Commissioner for Agriculture, Mrs. Ronke Sokefun, revealed that the state was embarking on massive production of rice, with the aim of selling at affordable price to its residents by the end of the year. She made this public at a press conference organised by the state Council of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (OGUNCCIMA) for the eighth Gateway Trade Fair 2017. Specifically, she stated then that acres of land were being prepared for massive planting of the rice by farmers. Now, the promise has been fulfilled!
Another notable aspect is that of partnerships. Months before the state also said it has concluded plans with Sterling Group, an Agro-Allied Firm, to embark on the cultivation of rice and other agricultural produce for food security. The company then pledged a whopping sum of ten billion dollars to the partnership. The salutary aim of course is to make Ogun state the largest rice producing state in the entire federation. As events unfold, it is no longer one long pipe dream.
To fast track the processes that would make Ogun State the largest rice producing state in Nigeria, as promised during its interaction with the state’s chapter of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, it should also synergise with the tertiary institutions of learning, research institutes and the manufacturing firms. As fate would have it, the state is home to several of them.
For instance, it could draw up a sustainable Master Plan on the Rice Revolution with the best of brains from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta and bells University of Technology, Ota. Furthermore, it should source for high-yielding, disease-resistant and early-maturing rice hybrid seedlings from IITA, Ibadan and send agric graduates to FIIRO, Oshodi for courses on processing, packaging and preservation. It should also forge partnerships with Nigerian engineers for local machine fabrication. This would save scarce foreign exchange as it would also serve as a catalyst for job creation.
Even as the focus is currently shifted on rice milling, no effort should be spared to add technological value to other crops such as maize, cassava, cocoa, banana, kola nut, rubber, palm oil and palm kernels. The value chain to be derived from the processing, packaging, marketing and export of their finished products will certainly make Ogun state one of the self dependent states, not waiting for federal allocation to fund its vision.
So far, the right step has been taken by Governor Amosun. What remains is the expansion and sustenance. Well done!


High rice prices, weak banking sector buck Bangladesh’s economic gains in 2017

  Abdur Rahim Harmachi, Chief Economics Correspondent,
 2017-12-31 05:02:24.0 BdST Updated: 2017-12-31 05:11:45.0 BdST

 The key indicators did well in 2017 amid a seemingly stable political atmosphere throughout the year, but the economy took a hit on spiralling rice prices and a messy banking sector.
The Bangladesh economy grew by a record 7.28 percent in the 2016-17 fiscal, beating the 7 percent target, thanks to the increased revenue collection, high foreign currency reserves propelled by a spike in export and remittance inflow.
Analysts, however, raised concerns over increased rice import and soaring prices following two rounds of floods and lack of supervision in the banking sector.
But former governor Mohammed Farashuddin and economist Ahsan H Mansur described the outgoing year’s economy ‘good on the whole’.
“The GDP had grown by over 7 percent for two years, economic indicators are doing well, the Padma Bridge construction is going ahead and the power generation has increased, which are all good things…Bangladesh will march at double speed in 2018,” said Farashuddin, who headed the central bank between 1998 and 2001.
Soaring rice prices, however, left mid- and low-income group in trouble, said Mansur, Executive Director of private think-tank Policy Research Institute. “The government failed to handle it efficiently.”
Growth, revenue and forex
The size of Bangladesh’s gross domestic product or GDP is now $249.68 billion, thanks to the more than 7 percent growth in the last two fiscals.
The per capita income is at $1,610. In June, the foreign exchange reserves rose to a record high of $33 billion.
But its benefits are yet to reach the public, says Farashuddin, underscoring the need to address inequality.
Revenue collection rose to Tk 1.85 trillion in FY 2016-17, registering a 19 percent rise.
In the 2017-18 fiscal, started from Jul 1, the government targets to raise Tk 2.48 billion and by the first five months, the National Board of Revenue reports that it has grown by over 18 percent compared with the same period in the last fiscal.
Rising inflation
The 2017-18 budget targeted to peg inflation within 5.5 percent, but by late 2017, it began to rise and is now over 6 percent.
Point-to-point inflation rose to 6.4 percent in October this year.
“Rice prices rose unexpectedly as the government was late to take import initiatives as well as to cut duty. The prices are still going up,” said Mansur.
Coarse rice is sold for Tk 35 a kilogram now from Tk 50 in the beginning of the year. Finer varieties cost between Tk 60 and 80, up from Tk 42.
Prices started to hike when unseasonal floods in April damaged crops in the northeastern backswamps or Haors.
A second round of floods during the monsoon hit this year’s rice production badly with the government’s rice stocks depleting below 200,000 tonnes.
The situation worsened with price-gouging by rogue traders, which forced the government to open import initiatives and revise down the duty twice.
Banking in jeopardy
A severe governance crisis in the financial sector, triggered by an unprecedented increase in bad debts, liquidity shortage and financial scams marred the new banks, cleared on political considerations.
Thirteen of the 57 banks operating in Bangladesh are now on the regulators’ list of banks with bad financial state.
The boards of the Farmers Bank and NRB Commercial Bank have recently been reconstituted following irregularities in loan disbursement.
The Farmers Bank has left the entire financial sector at a systematic risk, according to a government report.
The central bank, however, failed to put a leash on the chaotic sector despite fixing business goals, appointing observers or capping loans for the troubling banks.
Hostile takeovers left private banks in panic as a Chittagong-based conglomerate took control of several banks in the outgoing year.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith recently admitted that there are weaknesses in the sector.
Speaking to about the sector, Farashuddin suggested merger of those banks that are struggling financially.
“It happens in the whole world and we will have to do it as well,” he said.
But defaulted loans remain a major concern as the figure now tops Tk 803 billion, accounting for almost 11 percent of the loans released.
Export-import, remittance and others
The staple grain’s import shot up in the outgoing year as two bouts of flooding severely stymied rice production.
Imports of oil, capital machinery and industrial raw materials also soared.
In 2016-17, import spending clocked $47 billion. Between July and October this year, it rose by 29 percent year-on-year.
Exports, however, slowed in the outgoing year, fetching $34.85 billion to mark a 1.7 percent growth in 2016-17.
Between July and November this year, exports grew almost 6.9 percent, which readymade apparel entrepreneur Anwar-ul-Alam Chowdhury Parvez believes will be the case for the entire 2017-18 fiscal.
According to him, global exports destabilised to ‘some extent’ due to Brexit and some decisions by US President Donald Trump.
“Besides these, buyers have taken a cautious approach ahead of the general election due in late 2018. They have cut back on placing orders anticipating political volatility while issues with power and gas supplies and port facilities persist,” added Pervez.
Remittances sent by expatriates have always been a key contributor to the foreign currency reserves, which dropped during the first half of the year, but bounced back with a 10.76 percent year-on-year rise to $5.77 billion in July-November period.
Bangladesh ended 2016-17 with $1.48 billion deficit in balance of payment or BoP. In July-October period, it rose by over two folds to $3.31 billion.
Private sector credit flow rose 19 percent, but it failed to allay concerns of the analysts over the quality of the investment.
Bangladesh drew around $3 billion in foreign direct investments or FDIs in 2016-17, 19 percent more than it did in the previous fiscal year. In July-October period, it rose by 10 percent year-on-year to $1.15 billion

S. Korea to send 10,000 tons of rice to Vietnam
SEOUL, Jan. 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will send 10,000 tons of rice to Vietnam that was hit hard by a typhoon, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said Monday. The Southeast Asian country sustained considerable damage caused by Typhoon Damrey last year, with Hanoi requesting support from the ASEAN Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve (APTERR) last November. The reserve is maintained by South Korea, China, Japan and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Seoul has already pledged to offer assistance to Vietnam in 2017. Besides affecting the country's rice harvest the typhoon has resulted in numerous deaths. The farm ministry said that the rice to be sent was all harvested in 2016, with shipments to be sent as quickly as possible to help those that have been hit hardest by the natural disaster. South Korea, meanwhile, had provided rice aid under the APTERR to Myanmar and Cambodia in early 2017. Seoul hopes that the shipment of rice will further strengthen bilateral ties between the two countries. Vietnam has become one of South Korea's key trading nations.

The rice harvest in 2017 is estimated to have reached 7.55m tonnes
The prospects of key crops and the livestock sector in 2018 are somewhat promising but structural issues remain and need increased attention.
Only three out of five key crops are expected to do well, showing an increase in production and a modest growth in yield, and the livestock sector also seems set to perform better than the year before.
Wheat, sugarcane and rice are all heading in the right direction, and we may see additional output and yield enhancement this year.
Officials and growers say the output of maize, however, may either remain stagnant or record a slight decline due to multiple reasons. If all goes well, cotton output, too, may touch the 13 million-bale mark but will still remain below the original target of 14.04m bales.
Two key challenges to crops that have so far continued to haunt the agriculture sector might also remain there in 2018 even if their severity weakens.
The first is to bring the national average yield of key crops closer to the global average and the second is to improve supply and the value chain.
How closely we chase the objective of bridging the yield gap depends upon how seriously ongoing yield enhancement programmes based on seed research and modernisation of farming practices are implemented.
Lethargy on this count will not only result in a slower growth of the crop sector but will also constrain the country’s ability to meet the growing demand for food grains and cotton at home, and to achieve the desired growth in the export of grains, food items and textiles.
If distortions in supply chain of crops are not managed well the country can neither maintain a sober inflation nor get a high per-unit value for food and textile exports.
Cotton: The current season’s cotton output looks set to exceed 13m bales against the second assessment of the cotton crop assessment committee. This is by no means a very optimistic assessment as by mid-December the country had already produced 10.685m bales.
Sindh is sure to contribute 4m bales, up from the earlier estimates of 3.7m bales—a number already achieved by mid-December.
However, even a 13m-bale output would not only be lower than the original target of 14.04m bales but also insufficient to cover growing demand from the textile sector after the recent spike in textile exports.
Had Punjab’s cotton output not come under pressure (despite an increase in the area under cultivation) due to climatic reasons, the total national production would be around 13.5m bales.
Wheat: The target for wheat output in the upcoming season is 26.46m tonnes, up from 25.75m tonnes in the previous season.
A shortage of irrigation water and less or no rain in some wheat-growing areas might make the achievement of this target difficult, according to a Suparco assessment. But officials of provincial agricultural departments say, on the basis of field reports received so far, that the target could be achieved despite some reduction in the area under cultivation.
They are pinning their hopes on the projected increase in yields, thanks to the introduction of some new varieties in the past couple of years and a greater awareness created among farmers about the proper care of the crop.
According to Dawn reports, experiments on winter wheat are being conducted in four high-altitude regions. If encouraging results emerge, the country will begin growing this crop as well, though on a limited scale. The winter wheat crop is expected to offer a 20-30pc higher yield than spring wheat — an added advantage.
Rice: The rice harvest in 2017 is estimated to have reached 7.55m tonnes, according to officials who say that in 2018 production would cross eight million tonnes even if the area under cultivation remains the same.
Their optimism springs from a faster growth in production of coarse rice — thanks to an expanding use of high-yield varieties— and a modest increase in even Basmati rice.
For several years, Pakistan has been promoting the use of paddy seeds that survive and grow on less water and has also been teaching farmers how to reduce post-harvest losses.
Mechanised paddy harvesting and newer techniques of replanting the saplings, too, have been playing their role in boosting the rice output for some years now. Hopefully these trends should become stronger in 2018, officials of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research (MNFSR) say.
Sugarcane: The sugarcane output has been growing steadily leading to surplus sugar production in the country and a crash in domestic prices.
Sugar exports continue to bring in the much-needed foreign exchange into the country. Delays over the fixation of the support price of cane by provinces continue to occur, and the year 2017 was no exception.
Farmer lobbies persist in demanding an upward revision in support prices even when the same are notified. The same is expected to happen in 2018.
But on sugarcane farms we can expect changes: a straight 10pc increase in cane production (to 89m plus from 81.4m tonnes in 2017) and a rise in per-hectare yield to 64 tonnes per hectare from 62 tonnes per hectare, according to initial official projections, not yet finalised.
Maize: The maize output that exceeded 6.1m tonnes for the first time in 2017 may remain under pressure in 2018 for the simple reason that the 2017 output gain came from a big 12pc increase in the area under cultivation.
In 2018 this might not be the case and the area under cultivation could shrink, officials say, adding that total production could range between 5.3m and 5.5m tonnes.
They are, however, optimistic that the per-hectare yield of a little less than 4.6 tonnes in 2017 may actually rise to 5 tonnes per-hectare due to a wider adoption of high-yield varieties of the grain.
Livestock: In the absence of data obtained via physical animal surveys, authorities continue to make calculations about milk and meat production on the basis of inter census growth rates between 1996 and 2006.
Much has changed since 2006 and the entry and progress of large milk and meat processing companies have changed the entire landscape of value-added livestock industries.
An increase in economic growth, the consequent rise in income levels in recent years and the proliferation of chains of super markets also continues to boost demand for dairy and milk products. That is why officials of MNFSR remain upbeat about growth in the livestock sector in 2018.
But whether an anticipated growth in the sector’s performance will also help in the export of meat and meat preparations and of food items in which milk is used as the main ingredient cannot be predicted right now as competition in export markets is getting tougher.
One way of looking at the high impact of grains and livestock sectors’ performance could be the growth of the food and beverages segment of large-scale manufacturing. Here, an 11.49pc expansion in output in FY17 topped by a further 14.24pc growth in five months of this fiscal year indicates that things are moving in the right direction.

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