By Madelaine Miraflor
The National Food Authority (NFA) was left with one job since the Rice Tariffication Law was passed in March and is now ready to fulfill that as the first strong typhoon to hit some parts of the Philippines this year arrived.
(Juan Carlo de Vela / MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)
Since the signing of Republic Act (RA) 11203 — which liberalized the entry of imported rice into the country — four months ago, NFA's mandate was largely reduced to just ensuring rice buffer stock for the country during calamities and emergencies.
In a statement, the state-run grains agency assured that it has already prepositioned food security stocks in areas along the track of typhoon Falcon that hit the northern part of the country on Thursday.
“We are closely monitoring and coordinating with LGUs . If there will be areas that need rice for relief, our stocks are available," NFA Administrator Judy Carol L. Dansal said.
"Our OPCEN will be working 24 hours a day during calamities like this to ensure that we have personnel to serve the LGUs and other relief agencies in case they will withdraw rice from our warehouses,” she added.
Dansal said rice stocks of provinces projected to be hit by the typhoons were bolstered this week.
NFA currently has around 4 million bags of rice strategically stored in its different warehouses in Luzon, including the National Capital Region (NCR), ready for distribution for relief operations during calamities like this one.
In total, the agency now holds more than 10 million bags of rice stored in all of its warehouses nationwide after being able to buy 5.4 million bags from local farmers in the first half of the year alone.
NFA is no longer allowed to import as part of the RA 11203, leaving it with the only option of buying palay locally produced by Filipino farmers, which is more expensive than imported rice.
As early as Wednesday, Dansal had already instructed NFA offices in Regions 1, 2, 3, Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), NCR and all regions hit by heavy rains brought by Typhoon Falcon to secure their rice stocks in anticipation for heightened rice distribution and relief operations during and after the storm.
NFA currently has standing memorandum of agreements with relief agencies like Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and LGUs, allowing them to withdraw rice on credit from the food agency for their relief operation anytime during calamities and emergencies.
Tropical Storm Falcon was forecasted to pass through Northern Luzon, in Batanes and other Cagayan Valley provinces on Thursday. The storm is expected to bring heavy rains that may cause floods and landslides in many areas.
Based on the latest report of the Department of Agriculture's (DA) Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Operations Center, Typhoon Falcon has already incurred slight damages worth P4.15 million in rice areas in the municipalities of Valladolid and San Enrique in the province of Negros Occidental (Region VI).
The typhoon particularly damaged 665 hectares of land and affected 433 farmers so far.
In contrast, the rains it bought is even "beneficial to agricultural crops in Ilocos Region and Cagayan Valley", the DA-DRRM said.
Ilocos and Cagayan are one of the regions who have bear the brunt of El Niño phenomenon over the past months.
"The monitoring, assessment, and validation of the regional field office is on-going," DA-DRRM said.
As of now, the drought, which so far brought more than P5 billion worth of damage and losses to the agriculture sector, has already destroyed 276,568 metric tons (MT) of farm output and agricultural areas of about 177,743 hectares.
Field validation is still on-going in the affected regions, but the drought already affected as much as 164,672 farmers and fisherfolks.
Aside from Ilocos and Cagayan Valley, the other most affected areas hit by El Niño include CAR, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Bicol Region, Western Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, Davao Region, Soccsksargen, and BARMM, while the most affected commodities are corn and rice.
The DA now expects El Niño to wipe away 1 percent of this year's total rice production, which is targeted to end slightly above 20 million MT.