The Aquino administration has imported an alarming 2.1 million metric tons (MT) of rice this year alone that would reduce prices of farm-gate palay (unhusked rice) to the detriment of farmers, lawmakers said on Friday.
Party-list Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate made the warning in House Resolution 2231, which calls on the House Committee on Agriculture and Food and the Special House Committee on Food Security to conduct a joint inquiry, in aid of legislation, into the excessive importation of rice by the National Food Authority (NFA) Council.
The 2.1 million MT of rice import for 2015 is broken down into 500,000 MT procured by the NFA from Thailand and Vietnam through two rounds of government-to-government transactions, 250,000 MT programmed for the lean season, 250,000 MT reserve volume, 805,200 MT private sector imports from the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) and 300,000 MT delivered this year from 2014 MAV.
The 805,200 MT private sector imports from the MAV came from China, India, Pakistan, Australia, El Salvador, Thailand and Vietnam, among others, with the biggest chunk of 293,000 MT sourced from neighboring Thailand and Vietnam.
“The 2.1 million MT in rice import for 2015 is highly irregular and doubtful. Excessive importation jeopardizes the livelihood of our farmers nationwide. In fact, even the NFA admitted that importation would surely cause the farm-gate prices of palay to go down from its current price pegged at P17 per kilo,” the resolution of the lawmakers from Bayan Muna pointed out.
Bayan Muna said the NFA made matters worse by merely procuring 7,789 MT of palay for January-October 2014, a steep decline from the 365,582 MT palay procured in 2013.
Director Edilberto de Luna of the Department of Agriculture’s National Rice Program said the NFA should at least buy one million MT of palay from farmers to ensure the stability of farm-gate prices.
“It is rather incomprehensible that the NFA managed to [procure]excessive amounts of imported rice while reasoning out that they are hampered from buying more palay from farmers due to lack of funding,” Bayan Muna pointed out.
“The government did not even assure farmers that they would take necessary measures to stabilize the pricesto ensure food security. Hence, should this excessive importation continue, the public will be expecting another round of price hikes not only of rice, but other commodities,” the lawmakers said.
Moreover, Bayan Muna revealed that the Aquino administration has been marred by low rice distribution based on NFA records.
From a total rice distribution of 1.7 MT million in 2010, the NFA only distributed 1.9 MT in 2011, 766,000 MT in 2012, 758,000 MT in 2013 and 1.2 million MT in 2014.
“Rice distribution is the capacity of the government to judiciously disperse stocks, thereby ensuring sustainable rice inventories in critical areas of the country. This means that despite the Aquino administration attaining record-setting importation volumes, the consuming public did not benefit from the same,” Colmenares and Zarate said.
“It is the primordial duty of Congress to partake in measures or actions that would ensure not only food security to the public but also their protection from those who try to abuse our resources. President [Benigno] Aquino [3rd] himself questioned the excessive importation of rice during the Arroyo administration. And yet, the situation worsened during his term,” the two lawmakers added.