PHILIPPINES RICE CROP SUFFERS MAJOR DAMAGE FROM FLOODS DELAYED HARVEST KEEPS PRICES HIGH

PHILIPPINES RICE CROP SUFFERS MAJOR DAMAGE FROM FLOODS DELAYED HARVEST KEEPS PRICES HIGH

Floods from storms and typhoons have ravaged the third-quarter rice crop in the Philippines, further delaying the harvest and keeping prices high, traders and agriculture officials said on Monday.

The unmilled rice harvest in the third quarter is seen falling below 1.5 million tons, down sharply from earlier forecasts of 2 million tons, a senior agriculture official said in an interview."Flash floods damaged the crop on Luzon island and we have not yet counted the damage from the Mount Parker landslide that hit irrigation systems and farms on Mindanao island," the official said.

A landslip in Parker's crater lake, which caused major floods in the area, killed some 50 people and destroyed thousands of hectares of rice farms on southern Mindanao island earlier this month.

The Philippines lies in the path of typhoons that form in the Western Pacific and sweep into the country from June to October. An average of 19 approach or hit the country annually, causing extensive damage on Luzon and the central islands.

The floods have delayed harvesting of the crop and the rice may not reach retail markets until mid-October compared with earlier estimates that it would come in by September.

"It will take two weeks more for rice supplies and prices to normalize," Agriculture Undersecretary Joemari Gerochi said.

The delays have kept prices of the staple food of the country's 68 million people high despite imports of nearly 250,000 tons from Thailand,

Vietnam, China, India and Japan, which have already reached the country.

It is the second time in three years the Philippines has been forced to import rice. Manila bought 200,000 tons of rice in 1993 from Thailand.

The imports were supposed to cap prices because of the seasonal tightness in supplies, which occurs every third quarter.

But prices of rice in Manila's retail markets remain high, ranging from 18 to 26 pesos (69 cents to $1) a kilo against 14-15 pesos (53-57 cents) four months ago.

Congress members belonging to the ruling coalition supporting President Fidel Ramos have demanded an investigation into why prices have remained strong.

Traders said the low harvest in the third quarter may also eventually affect the unmilled rice harvest for calendar 1995 and drag it below official forecasts of 11 million metric tons.

Agriculture Secretary Roberto Sebastian on Sunday had insisted that unmilled rice production for 1995 was on track to reach the target of 11 million tons. Production in 1994 reached 10.5 million tons.

A drought, which affected the dry season crop planted in the first three months of 1995, forced the Agriculture Department to trim the forecast to 11 million tons from the earlier prediction of 11.5 million tons.