By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The existing rice importation program had failed to temper the rising cost of rice. Yet, the government decided to import more rice towards the end of the year to help temper inflation, which just shot up to its highest level in nine years.
This was the sentiment of several groups of agriculture stakeholders, who collectively agreed that the government only resorted to importation because it didn’t want to admit that the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law is what has been pushing the price of commodities higher.
SINAG Chairman Rosendo So said in an interview that the importation of more rice at the time when local output is expected to surge will only result to a highly excessive rice inventory by January next year.
It was on Wednesday when Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the country will have a record palay output of 19.4 million metric tons (MT) this year.
A few hours he said it, the National Food Authority (NFA) Council approved the importation of additional 250,000 metric tons (MT) of rice via an open tender scheme due for arrival in November.
So said either the country needs an updated figure on the country’s daily rice consumption or Piñol has been citing a data, which normally comes from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), that is inaccurate. Hence the non-stop increase in the price of rice in the country.
“We should ask them what’s causing the increasing prices. Either the harvest is not that high or our consumption is increasing. But if the price is high, can the public still eat so much rice? So what is really the harvest? Maybe it’s not that huge,” So said.
“They already said before that the price will go down when the imported rice enters but it didnt. It even went up,” he further said.
At present, the country’s daily consumption requirement is pegged at 32,013 MT or 640,260 bags, which means the country only needs 11.5 million MT of rice a year.
If Piñol is correct about his projected palay harvest, it could be converted to as much as 12.3 million MT of rice, an amount that would grow tremendously once imported stocks started arriving.
With the newly approved importation, the total amount of imported rice that have entered and are set to enter the country would already stand to as much as 2.2 million MT.
As of August, the amount of imported rice that already entered the country since January already stood at 1 million MT, based on a data from Bureau of Customs.
“We would end up with so much inventory. We are no longer sure what figure to follow,” So said.
Composed of the country’s major agriculture stakeholders, SINAG was one of the “strong lobbying force” that made House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo backtrack on her zero import tariff proposal on meat and fish products a few weeks ago.
On Friday, SINAG was joined by other agriculture lobby groups and they all agreed that the entry of more imported food commodities will not temper the rising prices, the suspension of TRAIN will.
Worst, Rafael Mariano, chairman emeritus ng farmers militant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), said additional importation could only trigger a decline in the farm-gate price of locally produced palay.
“They should suspend the TRAIN law, specifically the tax on fuel. If the price of fuel goes down, everything will follow such as the cost of production in agriculture. [The economic managers] must eat their pride and admit that it’s the TRAIN law that’s causing this,” So said.
Under TRAIN, the excise tax on gasoline went up to P4.35 a liter. This will further go up by P9 a liter in 2019 and P10 in 2020 as part of the less than one year old tax reform.
“We are also victims of inflation. Our cost of production is getting high. Instead of helping us, they are blaming the agriculture sector. And now they are going to import to solve this, even lobbied for zero tariff,” United Broiler Raisers Association President Elias Jose Inciong said.
If achieved, Piñol’s palay projection of 19.4 million MT will be the highest recorded rice harvest of the country.
According to him, this will be the result of high buying price of both fresh and dry paddy rice, which triggered “a planting frenzy” among rice farmers in the country.
As for NFA, it said the additional importation of 250,000 MT can increase NFA’s active participation in the market by as much as 20 percent.
At the rate things are going in the rice sector and the government, So doubts if the price of rice could even improve towards the latter part of the year.
During the last week of August, price increases in rice were observed in many regional centers in the country, with 10 regional centers exhibiting price mark-ups ranging from P1 to P5 per kilogram for premium rice and well milled rice.
The price of rice of special rice in Baguio also increased by P5 per kilogram and in Tuguegarao City by P1 per kilogram, as per PSA.