MANILA, Philippines – Two advocacy groups criticized the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to give the go-ahead to the National Food Administration (NFA) to import rice amid the reported shortage.
“Duterte is giving in to the luxury of unscrupulous rice traders and corrupt NFA officials who will get the most benefit from the importation,” Zen Soriano, head of the National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan) said.
Soriano urged concerned authorities to conduct an investigation “to clarify the differing statements of government officials which only create confusion on the people, and to determine the real cause of NFA rice shortage.”
In a separate statement, the group Bantay Bigas said “corrupt NFA officials and devious traders” will gain the most from the impending rice importation.
“The importation is very dubious as it contradicts Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol’s statement that the country has a 96-day buffer stock which is one of the biggest inventories of the country in recent years resulting from a 19.4 million MT harvest last 2017,” Cathy Estavillo, Bantay Bigas spokesperson, said.
According to Soriano, the government should instead increase local palay procurement of NFA instead of relying on importation and acting as broker for imported rice.
“The farmers have continuously been flogged by anti-farmer policies from the failed agrarian reform program, the lack of support services and subsidy from the government, the dependence on importation and the recent additional excise tax which resulted to increased cost of production,” Soriano said.
She said the NFA should also raise the buying price of palay from farmers to increase its buffer stock and ensure food security, stabilize rice prices and guarantee affordability of the staple, and help local farmers earn from their produce.
Estavillo questioned the need to import amid the statement of Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco that the 325,000 MT of rice under the minimum access volume (MAV) will be arriving towards the end of the month.
“If a huge volume of rice will be available soon, why does the government need to spend billions for importation? Importing another 250,000 MT will no longer be necessary as local rice supply will be available at the time of its arrival, 45 days after which is in time for the harvest season and thus, detrimental to the local rice industry and the livelihood of our farmers,” Estavillo said.
Bantay Bigas denounced NFA’s failure to perform its mandate citing the agency’s local procurement which is less than 3 percent instead of its mandated 10 percent of local production.
The NFA’s share in the country’s total rice stock has been declining, reaching 50 percent or 1.7 million MT in 2011 and 28 percent or 906, 000 MT in 2016. Correspondingly, commercial stock increased from 16 percent or 557, 000 MT to 965, 000 or 30 percent during the same period, Bantay Bigas added.
“This means that the shortage of NFA buffer stock is because the rice supply of the country is at the hands of the traders. Worse, the NFA’s P7 billion budget this 2018 for its buffer stocking program which should supposedly be used for local palay procurement, will be used to pay for the imported rice,” Estavillo said.
The group reiterated its call to ensure the country’s food security by putting an end to dependence on importation and instead increase the procurement of local produce and hike the purchase price of palay.