Greater coordination sought on rice problem

Published September 6, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

e-cartoon-sep-6-2018For a while, there were calls for the abolition of the National Food Authority (NFA) over its alleged failure to keep  rice supplies and prices steady for the poorer sector of the country. Some senators and the Foundation for Economic Reform blamed the NFA for the nationwide rice crisis, particularly in Zamboanga  City.

The NFA had been charged with rumor-mongering that caused prices to rise when  it warned that its rice reserves were down and  called on the  NFA Council to immediately order new importations. It is the  18-member council  that  has the authority to order such importations. In this role, it has served as a watchdog against corruption in rice procurement and smuggling.

In the face of the fast-rising prices,  President Duterte authorized immediate importations that should stabilize  market  prices. Secretary of Agriculture Emmanuel Pinol said the President has abolished the NFA Council  and transferred the NFA back to the Department of Agriculture. But presidential spokesman Harry Roque disputes  the abolition claim.

It is hoped that the presidential order for immediate importations will stop the increases in rice prices which are due to shortages in some parts of the country and  manipulations by some traders. In an interview last weekend, Secretary Pinol  pointed out that a big part of the problem is the lack of coordination among various government agencies, leading to uncertainty and inaction.

This lack of coordination is  due in part to a decision of the  previous administration to detach  the NFA, the National Irrigation Authority, the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority, and the Philippine Coconut Authority from the Department of Agriculture in 2014.  These four DA agencies  were made part of  a new Cabinet-level Office of the Presidential Assistant for  Food Security and Agricultural Modernization.

It  was  an unwise and bad management decision to  break up  the DA and assign these four major agencies to another Cabinet member It  resulted in loss of  coordination in agricultural growth and development – and in determining the proper timing and amounts of needed rice importations. This decision  should be made only after an assessment of national rice production by our farmers, Secretary Pinol said.

Recent  decisions and developments should result in greater coordination among these related agencies of  the government, the secretary said. Calls for abolition of agencies will not solve the continuing rice problem. Greater coordination  and cooperation will help a great deal, he said.