By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The state-run grains agency National Food Authority (NFA) had sold 4 million bags of rice in the first three months of the year, nearly half of which was released over the span of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the government’s top measure to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Of this volume, NFA sold 3.644 million bags of rice from January to March, which is 201 percent higher than its 1.8 million bags distribution target.
For March alone, the agency disposed 1.93 million bags, thrice the distribution target for the month set at 617,000 bags.
Under the liberalized regime, NFA’s sole mandate was supposedly reduced to buffer stocking for calamities and emergencies. To perform this task, the agency buys stocks from farmers, which it will sell to local government units (LGUS) and partner agencies like the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
However, since Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), which allowed the unimpeded entry of imported rice into the country, has yet to bring down the retail cost of rice to ₱27 per kilogram (/kg), NFA still sells affordable rice in select poor areas.
NFA said that of the rice it released in March, only more than 900,000 bags went to the LGUs and DSWD.
In sum, the food agency had already sold 39 percent of its total distribution target of 9.209 million bags for 2020.
Meanwhile, NFA already procured as much as 2.37 million bags of palay from January to March, representing 102 percent of its 2.32 million bags target for the first quarter of the year.
For the whole year, the agency is targeting to buy 15.4 million bags.
During the summer harvest, starting this month until May, the NFA targets to buy 4 million bags of palay and is aggressively buying in regions where harvest is peaking, such as Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Western Visayas, as well as Western, Northern and Central Mindanao.
NFA Administrator Judy Dansal said the government’s current rice inventory stands at 8.2 million bags. Based on the NFA’s 10 percent market participation, this is good to last for 120 days or 4 months.
“It is important that the farmers will always have a ready market for their produce especially when private traders offer prices lower than the current ₱19/kilogram government support price,” Dansal said.
She explained that the NFA’s palay procurement program does not only ensure continuous re-plenishment of the government’s buffer stock to address emergency situations, but also assures farmers of a reasonable income from their produce.
Dansal also assured that the planned 300,000 metric tons (MT) rice importation recommended by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and NFA, which has been approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force, will “not adversely affect Filipino farmers but instead help sustain the nation while grappling with the Covid19 pandemic”.
“The rice importation shall be properly timed so that the stocks would arrive before the onset of the traditional lean months of July to September. This is to ensure that government will have continuous supply of the staple to respond to any need for emergency relief as the lean months are also normally beset with natural calamities needing government intervention,” Dansal said.
She also explained that it takes at least two months for the imported rice to arrive in the country and the NFA should be given enough lead time to preposition the stocks in deficit island provinces and calamity-vulnerable areas across the country prior to the lean season.
As stipulated in the RTL, rice importation shall no longer be a function of the NFA but of the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC). NFA, however, could still be the distributor once the rice imports have been delivered.