THE National Food Authority (NFA) Council has approved the importation of 300,000 metric tons (MT) of rice on top of the 200,000 MT in additional imports announced in June, a decision that has drawn sharp criticism from the recently-resigned head of the National Rice Program and local rice traders.
Presidential Assistant for Food Security Francis Pangilinan said the NFA Council on Tuesday approved an open bidding for the immediate importation of Manila’s additional rice requirement to boost government buffer stock and curb possible increases in prices as a result of the damage caused by Typhoon Glenda. The amount of additional imports approved recently for this year has now reached 500,000 MT.
“This is apart from the initial set of importation that was at 800,000 metric tons, which will be completed by the end of August,” Pangilinan said in text message.
The decision was slammed by former DA Undersecretary Dante S. Delima, once described as Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala’s “right-hand man,” who condemned the move as politically motivated and a sign of distrust of local farmers.
Delima said that the timing of the importation puts more economic pressure on marginalized palay farmers, noting that there is no shortage in rice supply as the harvest season will start by September—the time of the arrival of the rice imports.
“This is clearly political pressure on our leaders because of ambition. They are afraid to act against the rice giants because the elections are just around the corner,” added Delima, who currently represents small farmers from Mindanao.
Delima, who directed the DA’s effort to achieve rice self-sufficiency in the Philippines, resigned from his position on June 1 as part of the reorganization of the DA following Pangilinan’s appointment by President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd.
The new import approval effectively raises the country’s importation to 1.3 million MT of the staple this year, the highest level of importation since 2010. Pangilinan said that the open bidding for the import tender would be conducted on August 12, with the shipment’s arrival date set for the first or second week of September.
Under an open bidding scheme, countries and other private companies with existing rice supply agreements with the Philippines can vie for the supply of Manila’s buffer stock requirement.
The NFA explained it was compelled to hike the additional rice import requirement from an initial volume of 200,000 MT announced last month to 500,000 MT due to the high rate of withdrawals from government-owned warehouses. In response to a spike in rice prices earlier this month, Pangilinan directed the NFA to double its daily release of the staple from 12,500 bags to 25,800 bags. On Wednesday, Pangilinan said that the grains agency would immediately increase daily rice stock to 10,000 metric tons from 6,000 metric tons to further cushion the effects of increases in prices. He also said that he plans to make NFA rice more accessible to consumers by selling to government-owned agencies and corporations.
Regular milled rice is currently sold for P27 per kilo by the NFA, while the well-milled rice costs P32 per kilo. NFA rice is cheaper compared to commercial rice, which has shot up to an average of P45 per kilo.
This year’s importation is the biggest volume allowed since a record 2.4 million MT was imported in 2010. Under Aquino, the DA has made some progress towards reducing rice imports, cutting shipments to 860,000 MT in 2011 and 500,000 MT.
In the past two years, however, imports have increased; in 2013, Manila approved 205,700 MT of rice imports under the omnibus minimum access volume for rice, plus another 500,000 MT of rice from Vietnam, followed by the 1.3 million MT in imports booked so far in 2014.
A group of registered rice traders have also questioned the government-led importation, accusing Pangilinan of only using typhoon damage as an excuse to ship a massive volume of rice into the country.
The group said that the additional importation is uncalled for since the typhoon hardly made a dent in rice stocks currently held by the five biggest NFA warehouses in Plaridel, Bulacan; San Pablo City, Laguna; Lucena City and Infanta, Quezon; and Batangas City, Batangas.
“So it is clear as day that they [NFA authorities] are only using Typhoon Glenda as a convenient excuse, for them to make another round of rice importation,” they said.