A national farmers’ group has warned that the government’s plan to import rice could lead to a slump in palay farm-gate prices just when these are starting to recover.
The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) criticized the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Food Authority’s (NFA)’s support for the Philippine International Trading Corp.’s (PITC) move to import 300,000 metric tons of rice, even after the DA declared that there was adequate supply of rice for the next 84 days.
In a statement, Agriculture Secretary William Dar even assured consumers that the country had enough stocks of the staple even with the extension of the enhanced community quarantine, and noted that the country would even have a surplus equivalent to 18 percent of the country’s total consumption.
These conflicting statements have drawn the ire of FFF, and other industry groups.
“On the one hand, it is encouraging farmers to expand their production and enticing them with loans, subsidies and other incentives. On the other, it is leaving the room open for private importers to bring in unlimited volumes of rice from abroad … It appears that the DA just wants to flood the market with rice and is not really concerned about what happens to farmers in the process,” FFF national chair Raul Montemayor said.
The FFF also hit NFA administrator Judy Carol Dansal for encouraging private traders to bring in more rice from abroad to boost the country’s inventory.
Montemayor said the NFA should focus on its local procurement operations instead and encourage the private sector to buy farmers’ products rather than import.
“Private traders absorb up to 95 percent of total palay production in the country while the NFA can handle only 10 percent at the most of farmers’ harvests. Where will farmers sell their crops if all these traders just become importers?” he said.
Based on government data, the average farm-gate price of palay has risen to an average of P16.69 a kilogram from P15 a kilo in the previous months. The increase was attributed to the growing demand for local rice as the lockdown hampered the movement of imports and many consumers resorted to panic-buying.
As such, the DA has been encouraging the agricultural workforce to increase production and increase the country’s level of food security, but has also endorsed the government-to-government (G2G) importation of rice through the PITC.
The PITC, for its part, has yet to announce details of the importation.
When asked if there was really a need to import rice, Dar said the G2G importation was only part of the government’s contingency plan, but also said that it would push through and would arrive during the lean months to assure that prices of palay would not be affected.
This did not sit well with farmers groups, saying that the entry of imported rice would result in a supply glut that will again lead to a fall in farm-gate prices during the main harvest season in September to November.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.