By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The National Food Authority (NFA), which will soon no longer be allowed to import rice, is now waiting for the delivery of the last batch of imported rice it procured last year.
A data from the state-run grains agency showed that of the rice imports contract awarded last year, a total of 1.01 million metric tons have already been delivered in the country.
To recall, NFA was authorized to procure as much as 1.25 million MT of rice through a series of government-to-government importation and open tender scheme last year. Most of this supposed needed supply, or around 750,000 MT, was only secured in the last few weeks of December.
NFA said that the balance of 236,196 MT of rice from last year’s importation is now in “transit and expected to arrive soon”.
“With the continued arrival of our rice imports, we are making the low-priced good quality NFA rice more accessible to more consumers across the country,” NFA acting administrator Tomas R. Escarez said.
“As rice import deliveries come on a staggered basis, through the various designated ports across the country, we deliver rice to our outlets on a first in-first out basis to avoid deterioration and ensure that what we sell are fresh stocks all the time,” he added.
As of now, NFA’s share in the rice market already went up from an average of 9.18 percent in 2018 to 11.76 percent for the month of January 2019, thanks to the imported supply that arrived and was delivered to the agency’s warehouse.
This will be the last batch of imported rice to enter the country that will pass through the supervision of NFA.
Once the Rice Tariffication Bill is either signed by President Rodrigo Duterte or lapsed into law by February 17, NFA will no longer have regulatory functions and will only be allowed to boost its stocks through local palay procurement.
There are now groups asking Duterte to veto the bill, saying that leaving rice importation to the ‘open market’ will be dangerous.
The Rice Tariffication Law, according to Federation of Free Farmers, will “practically remove all” restrictions on rice imports and will allow any importer to bring in unlimited volumes of rice from abroad and and at any time, even if local farmers are harvesting.
This, as importers will only need to secure a food safety certificate from the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI).
In an open letter to Duterte, the grains industry stakeholders, including the farmers, describe this certain provision of the Rice Tariffication Law as “anti-people.”
Moreover, they said the removal of the stabilization and regulatory functions of the NFA will expose rice prices and supply to manipulation by the private sector. They also fear that the absence of government control will lead to a more powerful rice cartel in the country.
Amid these concerns, Escarez said NFA will do its best to sustain the presence of NFA rice in the market to ensure that its target beneficiaries – the poor and marginalized sector – will have continuous supply of affordable good quality rice anywhere in the country.
NFA had so far accredited more than 6,000 additional rice outlets in January 2019, bringing the total outlets selling NFA rice at P27 and P32 per kilo to 26,879 nationwide.
“We assure our NFA rice customers, especially those in highly urban, marginalized areas and island provinces, that their low-priced good quality rice will be available throughout the year. Based on our average daily sales, our imported rice stocks will last until August this year,” Escarez said.