PHL must import rice soon–Piñol

12.05.2017

The chief of the Department of Agriculture (DA) said on Thursday he has changed his mind, and is now urging President Duterte to allow the National Food Authority (NFA) to import rice for its buffer stock during the lean months.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol made the pronouncement following reports that rice prices have increased by as much as P100 per 50-kilogram bag.

“Let the NFA do the importation now, because the harvest season has ended. The NFA is complaining that they don’t have sufficient buffer stock. If it wants to import, it should be now,” Piñol told reporters in an interview on Thursday.

“I told the President that now is the best time for the NFA to import. And it should be via government to government,” he added.

Citing data from the International Rice Research Institute (Irri), Piñol said the country’s rice shortfall this year could reach as much as 800,000 MT. “However, this is much lower than the shortfall in previous years. The Irri study showed that the trend in the rice consumption of Filipinos is declining,” Piñol said.

“The Filipino family has become prosperous and, more often than not, when they eat outside, they only consume less rice,” he added. The NFA had earlier asked the interagency NFA Council (NFAC) to allow the government-to-government purchase of 250,000 metric tons (MT) of rice, citing its difficulties to procure palay from farmers to boost its stockpile.

The food agency said it would need an additional 490,800 MT to meet the 30-day buffer-stock requirement of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council.  The NFA is mandated to maintain a rice buffer stock that will last for 15 days at any given time and 30 days at the onset of the lean months. Rice harvest is significantly lower during the lean months of July to September.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that as of April 1, rice stocks held by NFA depositories reached 327,240 MT, which is sufficient for only 10 days. NFA Administrator Jason Laureano Y. Aquino had been urging the NFAC for months to approve his proposal to import rice. “It’s always better safe than sorry, especially when dealing with our people’s basic staple. If the government does not possess the right volume of stocks when the lean months come, who would provide for the needs of calamity victims?” Aquino said last month.

The NFA chief had been urging the council to approve the purchase of the 250,000 MT of imported rice. The volume is part of the 500,000 MT standby authority granted by the council to the agency in 2015. Last month Duterte thumbed down the purchase of imported rice, citing the need to protect local farmers. The NFAC and Piñol had also been lukewarm to the idea of allowing the NFA to import rice.

Some members of the NFAC said they prefer the private sector to buy rice from abroad to prevent the food agency from incurring more debts due to government- to-government importations.

To boost its buffer stock and reduce its debts, Piñol asked the NFA to focus on the procurement of palay from local farmers. “In the future, if the NFA intends to increase its buffer stock, then it should buy local produce. Importing rice would only cause the NFA to be saddled with more debts,” he said.

Data from the PSA showed that Philippine unmilled-rice output declined by nearly 3 percent to 17.62 million metric tons (MMT), from 18.14 MMT recorded in 2015. The DA attributed the decline in output to onslaught of strong typhoons, as well as pest infestation in some rice-growing areas.


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