Philippines: DA pushes for immediate rice importation

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Agriculture (DA) is now calling for the immediate importation of the 250,000 metric tons (MT) of rice that will serve as the country’s buffer stock in time for the coming of the lean months.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said he is now backing the proposal of state-run National Food Authority (NFA) to purchase the volume via government-to-government importation scheme, following the end of the harvest season.

“Let the NFA do the importation now since it’s already the end of the harvest season. Now is the best time to import and I told this to the president already because the world market price is plummeting,” Piñol told reporters in a chance interview.

To recall, the NFA has been pushing for the importation but the inter-agency NFA Council deferred the proposal.

Piñol maintained that NFA should start the process now as it would take approximately two months before the arrival of the rice, which will be just in time for the start of lean months in July.

“I was asked by the president on my views regarding the importation. This was a conversation between the two of us and he favors the idea,” Piñol said.

But, the agriculture chief clarified that the planned importation should just be for the coming lean months and said buying from the local farmers is still a priority.

“In the future, if we do buffer stocking, my suggestion for the next cropping season is that NFA should no longer participate in importing but rather buy local for buffer stocking,” Piñol said.

“Importing rice bleeds government of resources and deepens their indebtedness. It will still be advantageous and cheaper for the government to buy produce from farmers than for NFA to import rice,” he added.

NFA has a debt of P152 billion as of end-April, a big factor that is being considered why the agency is being stopped from importing rice.

Should there be a shortfall in stocks, Piñol said the private sector must be the one to purchase from international sources.

“This move will stabilize the price of local palay because now the NFA will be able to buy more from local farmers,” he said.

Piñol also dismissed allegations that he is meddling with the NFA Council even if he is not part of the team.

“We are placed in a very unique situation. This department is part of food production but we are not being consulted in certain measures especially in terms of importation which will directly affect the profitability of farmers,” he said.

The NFA is mandated to maintain a food security reserve good for at least 15 days at any given time.

By July 1, which marks the onset of the lean season for rice, the NFA must have at least a 30-day buffer stock to meet the requirements of victims of calamities and emergencies.

Latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that the country’s rice inventory in March declined by 19 percent to 2.18 million MT, from 2.67 million MT recorded a year ago.

The agency reported that total rice inventory as of March was also five percent lower than the 2.3 million MT posted in February.

Despite the decline in stocks, the PSA said that the stock inventory of the Filipinos’ main staple remains sufficient for 64 days.