NFA rice import plan questioned
Government officials on Thursday questioned the National Food Authority (NFA) for insisting on another importation of rice, saying the agency’s plans could be contributing to the manipulation of rice prices.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol and Socioeconomic Planning Assistant Secretary Mercedita Sombilla said there was no need to import rice because the country recorded a bumper harvest of 19.4 million metric tons (MT) last year.
“We cannot understand why [the NFA has] to import rice,” Sombilla said. “If they are saying that they cannot compete with the prices of private traders, we are actually hearing otherwise.”
Sombilla said the NFA should explain why its buffer stock had dwindled to 64,000 MT, its lowest level in 10 years.
Total rice stock
According to the NFA, the country’s total rice stock—including commercial and household inventories—is at 2.7 million MT, which can meet the usual demand for 86 days.
“Even Secretary Piñol and private traders are saying there are cheaper rice available. They just have to look in other regions,” Sombilla said.
Claim of shortage
Piñol said any claim of rice shortage only aimed to justify an increase in rice prices.
“Rice importation has always been a lucrative business for several big traders, including people in government in the past,” he said in a Facebook post.
Piñol said unmilled rice could still be bought at P17 per kilogram. An industry group, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag), said unmilled rice also cost P17 per kg in Mindoro.
Though the NFA admitted that there was an abundance of local rice, its director for operations, Rocky Valdez, claimed that “unmilled rice [is] being sold to private traders at a much higher price, and we cannot compete with that.”
But Sinag warned that allowing NFA to import would cause problems because any importation at this time would arrive in 35 to 45 days, coinciding with the rice harvest beginning in March.
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