SEN. Loren Legarda on Tuesday called on the Department of Agriculture (DA) to immediately act on the recommendation of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) regarding additional rice imports before rice prices hit levels that would make it unaffordable to common people.
At the same time Legarda, who finds the DA’s failure to act on the high rice prices “extremely disturbing,” insisted that if the Department and the National Food Authority would not act on the NEDA recommendation, it would be best for the government economic team to step in.
“It’s already October, and what has been very disturbing is that rice prices have continued to go up. Rather than normalize, rice prices are at their highest, and the NEDA memo only confirms what the law of supply and demand simply dictates: that with limited supplies, prices will naturally go up,” explained Legarda.
The memorandum, Legarda was referring was issued by last month by NEDA Director General Arsenio Balisacan, informing the President that the third quarter rice production of 7.4 million metric tons (MT) is inadequate to cover total utilization amounting to 9.1 million MT, a deficit of 1.7 million MT without buffer stocks.
The numbers, according to the document, can even balloon to 2.6 million MT if a 30-day buffer stock is factored in.
The NEDA memorandum, also recom-mends that the country import an additional 500,000 MT of rice to “stabilize prices and possibly lower them.”
The Department earlier announced that the country already completed its rice importation requirement for the year, which mean that no more rice would be imported into the country.
“This document clearly explains why rice prices have failed to stabilize even after the passing of the lean season. In past years, rice prices would spike in July and August, and by September these would go back to pre-lean season rates,” Legarda said.
Average retail price per kilo of regular milled rice for September 2013 was recorded at P36 a kilo, P4 more than pre-lean season prices and P3.60 a kilo more than the same period last year.
The average retail price per kilo of well-milled rice also hit an annual high, with prices pegged at P39.2 a kilo, P4 more than pre-lean season prices and P3.70 a kilo more than in September 2012.
“We would like to believe the DA and NFA when they say rice supply is ample, but in light of data and studies that say otherwise, what is their al-ternative to ensure that there will be enough rice for consumers this year,” the senator asked.
If in case the DA remains irresponsive, Legarda said the government economic team should to intervene and “provide the DA with the guidance it needs to come up with a workable solution to a problem that affects us all.”
She noted that the reason why the Department of Finance and the Department of Trade and Industry are represented in the NFA Council is because these departments have an appreciation of the data and the objectivity to gauge whe- ther these NEDA recommen-dations hold water and should be adopted.
The senator insisted that the government must act now instead of waiting for the country’s rice supply to dwindle.