While government officials forecast food sufficiency this year, farmers’ groups alleged that rice tillers are reeling from an oversupply of rice stocks, a scenario that may lead to another food crisis.
As a remedy, officials of party-list groups and nongovernment organizations are calling on the government to allocate P10 billion from the conditional cash transfer (CCT) fund for rice farmers hurt by continued smuggling of rice.
At a press briefing, officials of Abono and Butil party-list groups, Confederation of Irrigators Association and Pangasinan-based Cherries Cons Cooperative and Caflorescan Multipurpose Cooperative claimed smuggling has been widespread in areas like Pangasinan, La Union, Nueva Ecija and Baguio.
“If smuggling is widespread, who will buy our local farmers’ produce?” Abono chair Rosendo So said.
He said the oversupply of rice stocks demoralizes farmers and discourages them from planting again in the next cropping season. This could lead to a rice crisis when the government would be forced to import more rice due to a shortage in local supply.
“We are drowning in rice that can’t be sold in the market,” said Herculano Co, head of Philippine Confederation of Grains.
Asked for proof, So said: “The proof is right inside the mills,” noting the irony that there is a shortage of darak or rice wastes when there is an oversupply of milled rice.
“That is an indicator of a widespread smuggling,” he said.
On Tuesday, industry stakeholders signed a manifesto asking the government to expand the CCT and provide subsidies to rice farmers.
“We call on President Aquino to order the Department of Social Welfare and Development to include farmers in the government’s conditional cash transfer program or CCT,” the manifesto said.
The industry stakeholders said allocating a fourth of the CCT budget, or about P10 billion, to farmers would allow them to sell palay at a price of P14 per kilo from P17.50, which is the expected price dip due to the flooding of the market with smuggled rice.
“Doing so will ensure that market competition would kill smuggling operations as a discounted cavan price of P1,150 will be able to compete with smuggled rice being sold at P1,200 per cavan,” read the manifesto.
Jojo Soliman, vice chair of Alliance of Grain Industry Stakeholders of the Philippines, called on the government to grant police power to the National Food Authority (NFA) to allow the agency to seize and confiscate smuggled rice.
“The stakeholders are requesting the Office of the President to give police powers to the Department of Agriculture through the NFA to be able to monitor all incoming rice shipments,” Soliman said.
The groups noted that the price of palay has already dropped from P18 per kilo last year to about P15.50 per kilo. Rice bran or darak prices, on the other hand, shot up to P14 per kilo from P10.
The NFA allotted a P10.9-billion budget for the procurement of 615,985 metric tons of palay from farmers this year, only 3 percent of the total harvest of the farmers.