By Genalyn Kabiling
The country might have an “oversupply of rice” after the government has authorized the importation of additional rice, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said Monday.
“Today, the NFA (National Food Authority) has approved 750,000 metric tons additional importation,”Piñol said during a press conference in Malacañang.
“By the end of this year, we will have a buffer stock good for 134 days coming into 2019 so there is a danger actually that we may have an oversupply of rice,” he added.
To protect Filipino farmers from the plummeting cost of rice, Piñol said the government has launched a local rice procurement program. He said rice bought from local farmers would form part of the country’s buffer stocks for 2019.
For the longest time, the NFA has been citing the low buying price of palay– P17 per kilo – as the reason farmers refuse to sell their yield to the agency.
To address this, Piñol launched a new national local paddy rice procurement program, which requires NFA to offer an additional incentive of P3 per kilo on top of the P17 per kilo buying price for clean and dry paddy rice.
The P3 additional incentive per kilo marks the first time that the NFA provided a higher payment for the farmers’ produce since 2008 when the buying price of palay was increased from P11 to P17.
Piñol also allotted a budget of nearly P7 billion for palay procurement.
“The NFA last Tuesday launched a buffer stocking program in Mindoro and we will start buying farmers’ produce to protect them from plummeting prices of palay,” he said.
Piñol said the NFA, which now operates under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture (DA), will try its best to procure as much as 2.6 million bags of palay until the end of the year.
NFA had so far procured 87,000 bags of rice.
“The NFA will now prioritize the procurement of local palay. If we can buy more palay, why do we have to import?” Piñol said in an interview on Monday. “We are determined to buy more locally produced palay now.”
Piñol said he received complaints from Nueva Ecija that palay prices have gone down to P16 from a high of P25. “To protect the farmers, the NFA will be starting the local procurement program. We will focus on the local procurement program now since sufficient nanamanangating importation,” he said.
Piñol acknowledged that rice prices in the market were “starting” to stabilize. He said in his visit to Iloilo last week, millers were selling rice at P36 per kilo.
Before the end of the month, he said they intend to institute reforms in the local rice marketing sector. He said rice varieties would be clearly identified as Philippine rice and imported rice starting next week.
“Imported rice is being passed off as fancy so binebentangmahal [that were sold at high cost],” he added.
He said the government would also do away with the “deception” about the marking of rice in the market, insisting there were no such thing as Sinandomeng, Dinorado, Angelica, and Yummy varieties.
Names of rice products will be simplified as regular milled, well-milled, premium rice, and special rice, according to Piñol.
He said regular milled rice would be sold at P38 per kilo, well-milled rice between P40 to P42 per kilo, and premium rice at P44 per kilo.
Piñol said the rice stakeholders are expected to meet on October 18 to finalize the suggested retail price of the commodity.
“There was never any instance that we run out of rice. There was never any rice shortage,” the agriculture chief assured.
He said there was only an “abnormal” rice situation due to two factors, namely the issue of seasonality and delay in the NFA and NFA Council’s decision on the mode of rice importation.
Meanwhile, Piñol said President Duterte never ordered the “unimpeded” rice importation as it would be a disservice and an injustice to Filipinos, particularly the local farmers.
Piñol made the statement a week after former Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that Duterte gave the green light to unimpeded rice imports to bring down the price of the food staple in markets.
“The President never used the word ‘unimpeded importation’. Indeed, he said let’s flood the market with rice. But to say that importation will be unimpeded, would mean like throwing away all of the rules in the book and just allowing just everybody to load rice in the boat and bring it to the Philippines,” he said Monday.
According to Piñol, Duterte’s order was to fill up warehouses with rice even if they exceed the facility’s volume. (With reports from Argyll B. Geducos and Madelaine B. Miraflor)