THE National Food Authority (NFA) on Wednesday vowed to continue coming up with schemes to combat high rice prices and curb hunger.
NFA Administrator Renan Dalisay cited the establishment of a Food Security Committee composed of representatives from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) that has guaranteed proper input on the amounts of rice that need to be imported.
The committee also played a big role in ensuring a stable supply of rice in the market, as well as adequate buffer stocks for emergencies.
“We recognize that rice prices have a tremendous impact on the finances of our people. If rice prices go up, our people are forced to stretch their budgets to be able to buy other food items, or worse, buy less food,” Dalisay said.
He issued the statement after Senator Cynthia Villar called on the NFA to reconsider the implementation of government-to-government (G2G) scheme as the only mode of importing rice.
Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, said that the G2G scheme has been proven effective in fighting rice smuggling.
Under the G2G scheme, private traders are no longer given the permit to import rice. NFA imports rice through direct purchase from a foreign government, in this case, Vietnam and Thailand.
“By stopping the issuance of import permits to other parties, they were able to simplify the process because any rice shipment entering our ports and not handled by government was immediately seized and deemed smuggled,” she added.
The NFA chief said the agency has implemented other programs to ensure the accessibility and availabity of cheap rice.
He cited in particular the NFA’s BIGAS program. “BIGAS,” he explained, represents the following thrusts: Bigger Community and Sectoral Participation; Internal Reforms (Good Governance Initiatives and Modernization), Global Competitiveness; Accessible, Affordable, Available Rice (Food Security); and Sustainable Development.
“We know that many of our countrymen struggle to earn a decent wage. If we can keep the prices of food down, government can help our workers provide for their families,” Dalisay said in a statement
Based on the recent poll of the Social Weather Stations (SWS), the country’s self-rated hunger rate dropped to 12.7 percent in the second quarter of the year, the lowest in a decade.
The survey, taken from June 5 to 8, found 12.7 percent of respondents or about 2.8 million families claiming to have experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months.
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares asked the House Committee on Agriculture and Food to investigate the massive importation of rice which he said jeopardizes the livelihood of local rice farmers nationwide.
Colmenares said NFA officials and Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization (PAFSAM) Secretary Francis Pangilinan should explain why the market is being flooded by imported rice.
“The Department of Agriculture is saying that we are already 96-percent self-sufficient in rice this year so what is the massive imports for? This policy will drive our farmers to further bankruptcy and to what end?” Colmenares said.
“In fact, the government boasted that palay production increased this quarter compared to last year, so this large importation is very suspicious. That is why we are calling for an immediate investigation,” he added. “The Aquino officials used to criticize President Arroyo for large importation of overpriced rice imputing corruption, now, they themselves are doing the same over-importation,” he said.
But Dalisay said there is no oversupply of rice, adding that grain inventories in government-owned depositories remained below the mandated 30-day buffer stock requirement during the lean season.
A week before the start of the lean months, prices of commercial well-milled rice was pegged at P38.19 per kilo, while prices of regular milled rice averaged P34.53 per kilo.
The NFA sells regular milled rice for P27 per kilo, while the well-milled rice costs P32 per kilo.