The Philippines Department of Agriculture (DA) is urging for the immediate import of the 250,000 Metric Tonnes (MT) of rice that will serve as the country’s buffer stock for the lean months through the State-run National Food Authority (NFA). Agriculture Secretary Mr. Emmanuel Piñol said that the purchase would be via government-to-government importation scheme, after 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,” said Piñol. Although the NFA had been pushing for the importation but the inter-agency NFA Council deferred the proposal. Mr. Piñol maintains that NFA should start the process immediately 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. But the planned importation should just be for the coming lean months since 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 suggested. “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 carries a debt of P152 billion as of April, a big consideration as to why the agency is being stopped from importing rice. Piñol is of the opinion that should there be a shortfall in stocks; 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 affairs of 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 Metric Tonnes (MMT), from 2.67 MMT recorded a year ago. The agency reported that total rice inventory as of March was also five percent lower than the 2.3 MMT posted in February. Despite the decline in stocks, the PSA said that the stock inventory of the Philippines main staple remains sufficient for over 2 months.