Bantay Bigas blames NFA’s import-dependence, low procurement of palay from farmers for rice “shortage”

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Manila, Philippines – “The NFA is repeatedly raising false alarm for a shortage to justify more importation, when they should be procuring more palay from Filipino farmers,” Cathy Estavillo said, spokesperson of Bantay Bigas, while holding a protest in front of the office of the National Food Authority (NFA) in Quezon City.

Bantay Bigas is a rice watch group composed of various people’s organizations such as farmers, retailers and millers, consumers and land reform and food security advocates. The group also slammed the agency for pushing to import an additional 250,000 metric tons (MT) as response to dwindling buffer stock of rice. Many retailers in Metro Manila complained that there is already no stock for NFA rice since last month, priced at P27 and P32 per kilogram. The group said that with the continuing import-dependent policy, food security is being undermined and directly pushes the poor sector into aggravated hunger.

“NFA is importing more rice than buying local palay, thus, it is already acting as a broker for imported rice, instead of working towards ensuring food security in the country,” Estavillo said.

In 2016, it only procured lower than 1% or 107,877 MT of the more than 17 million MT local palay. When milled (65% milling rate), it could have only brought about more than 70,000 MT, while it imported 200,000 MT that year. It was also subsidized by the national government with P4.25 billion, but only spent P3.87 billion for local procurement.

The group also accused the NFA of attempting to trigger a mass panic, to gain permission to import more rice.

“How can the NFA cry shortage, when the fact is that the rice stock in the country has been turned over to the private sector or traders, at a higher price,” Estavillo added.

She denounced the deliberate reduction of NFA’s share in the country’s total rice stock, which in 2011 reached to about 50% or 1.7 million MT of the total 3.4 million MT, to a dramatic fall in 2016, 906,000 MT or a minority 28% of the total 3.2 million MT in 2016. Correspondingly, commercial stock increased from 557,000 MT or a minority 16%, to 965,000 or 30%, during the same period.

“This is a result of the NFA’s policy of decoupling its regulatory and proprietary function, and limit itself as only for buffer stocking,” the group said.

Decoupling of the NFA’s function is stated on the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022 of the Duterte administration.

“We are holding President Duterte accountable for allowing this mess that affects many poor consumers in the country,” Estavillo added.

The group also warned for the pending tariffication for rice imports as the quantitative restriction (QR) for rice provision in the World Trade Organization – Agreement on Agriculture (WTO-AoA) has expired in June 2017 and was only extended by a mere executive order. The group said that once the volume restriction has been lifted, it will serve as death warrant to rice farmers’ livelihood.

Finally, Bantay Bigas demanded for the NFA to increase procurement of local palay from farmers, as well as hike its purchase price.

“President Duterte should watch closely this issue, as hungry people are angry people and he would not want that to be directed against him, for worsening the situation by further liberalizing the rice industry and agricultural sector,” the spokesperson warned. ###

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