THE agriculture department said it expects stable prices for prime commodities such as rice, chicken and fish in the second quarter despite the dry spell due to El Niño phenomenon.

The department foresees surpluses of 5,135 metric tons (MT) of chicken, 24,674 MT of tilapia and 47,139 MT of milkfish in second quarter of the year.

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In Metro Manila, regular-milled rice is currently sold for P30 per kilo, while tilapia and milkfish sells at P80 per kilo and P110 per kilo, respectively.

Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Bernie Fondevilla said prices of sugar and chicken are also expected to soften soon, owing to the stabilizing supply of these commodities in the market.

A stakeholders’ consultation held earlier this week resulted to a suggested retail price (SRP) of P125 per kilo for fully-dressed chicken.

The SRP for sugar will be reduced to P50 per kilo from the previous P52 per kilo level because of the stabilizing supply.

DA Undersecretary Salvador Salacup, meanwhile, said in his report to Fondevilla that the DA expects the supply of palay to reach 3.463 million metric tons in the April to June period.

“With demand expected at 3.303 million MT in the second quarter, the 3.463-million MT projection is more than enough to cover our national requirements for the period,” Salacup said.

Weather bureau Pagasa earlier projected the dry spell to last until June 2010.

The country last felt the effects of El Niño in 1997 where almost 74,000 hectares of farm lands were affected.

Last January, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo reactivated the El Niño Task Force and ordered the release of P1.7 billion in preparation for the dry spell on the fisheries and agriculture sectors.

The task force has identified 23 highly vulnerable areas and 24 moderately vulnerable provinces to El Niño in the country.

Moderately vulnerable areas compose of Abra, Apayao, Bohol, Benguet, Ifugao, Mt Province, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Batangas, Laguna, Quezon, Romblon, Sorsogon, Aklan, Antique, Samar, Zamboanga Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga Sur, Bukidnon, Davao Oriental, Davao Sur and Davao City.

Meanwhile, Occidental Mindoro, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, La Union, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Aurora, Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales, Cavite, Rizal, Palawan, Capiz, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Misamis Oriental, Zamboanga City, Sarangani and South Cotabato are considered highly vulnerable to El Niño. (Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)