Traders warned: Don’t create artificial rice shortage
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol yesterday warned traders against triggering an artificial rice shortage to force the government to allow the importation of the country’s staple.
Piñol aired the warning on the sidelines of the hearing of the Senate agriculture committee, chaired by Sen. Cynthia Villar, on irrigation and allocation of funds for the sector.
He warned of well-entrenched syndicates that take advantage of the country’s perennial rice production shortfall by smuggling rice from abroad that continues to impoverish farmers.
“The moment I would sense that there is an attempt on the part of rice traders or the rice cartel to create a shortage, I will recommend to the President the creation of a task force that would open up and inspect warehouses all over the country and those found hoarding rice should be charged with economic sabotage,” Piñol told reporters.
“We know our (rice production) numbers, we know our data and we are sure of our numbers so we cannot be duped,” he said.
Piñol said based on the satellite data of the Department of Agriculture (DA), rice production for the first quarter of the year is 4.14 million metric tons or 210,000 MTs higher compared to the same period last year.
He stressed the DA was never against rice importation, given the annual production shortfall, but only asked that it should not be done during harvest season to protect the farmers.
This year, the estimated deficit is about 500 to 800 MTs.
He said most of the cooperatives importing rice are just “dummies of rice traders” who time their importations during harvest season to force the reduction in the prices of palay by as much as P8 per kilo.
“If there is a need to import, let’s import… but do not time it during the peak harvest season when the farmers are supposed to make money,” Piñol said, emphasizing that since last year until February, the private sector has already brought in 650,000 MTs of rice while the National Food Authority has brought in 250,000 MTs of rice.
During the hearing, Villar questioned why the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) was spending more on the repairs of irrigation facilities instead of building new ones.
She said the lack of new irrigation is one of the major reasons the country’s rice production continues to be low.
Meanwhile, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian called on the government to condone P13 billion in outstanding irrigation service fees (ISFs) owed by individual farmers and farming cooperatives to the NIA.
Gatchalian has likewise proposed that the NIA stop collecting ISFs which, he said, has further reduced the already meager monthly income of small farmers and added to their monthly expenses.
“Irrigation is a key factor in increasing agricultural productivity, rice sufficiency and food security. It should be the obligation of the state to provide free irrigation services,” the senator stated in the explanatory note of his Senate Bill 1412, which proposes the repeal of the provision in the NIA charter that authorized the agency to charge and collect irrigation fees from users.