AGRICULTURE Secretary William Dar urged on Monday the National Food Authority (NFA) to step up efforts to procure palay (paddy rice) from local farmers to increase the presence of cheap rice in the market and achieve food security.
Dar instructed NFA administrator Judy Carol Dansal to ensure that the P7-billion procurement funds of the agency will be properly used.
“The turn around of procurement of palay… once it has been processed, let’s put it already in the market. Bring it out [so that] your money will return to you [and] you have something to buy more palay from farmers,” Dar said. “There is no [other] way to do that but to accelerate the buying, processing and marketing. Don’t stock up only for buffer. You buy and sell,” he added.
The national government, through the General Appropriations Act, allocated P7 billion to the NFA for the implementation of the Food Security Program through buffer stocking.
The NFA is mandated to maintain a 15-day rice reserve at any given time and a 30-day buffer stock during the lean season.
Under Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Liberalization Law, the NFA will adopt the “rolling buffer stocking” scheme–buy palay from local farmers all-year round with an optimal level of buffer stocks good for 30 days and release the aged stocks once they reach the optimal level.
Last year, President Duterte ordered the NFA to have at least 60 days’ worth of buffer stocks to prevent a repeat of the supply shortage that pushed the staple’s price to as high as P60 per kilo in Metro Manila and P70 per kilo in Zamboanga City.
Latest data from the NFA showed it has bought a total of 286,805 metric tons (MT) or 5,736,100 bags of palay worth P5.936 billion from January to July 2019. For 2019, the NFA is targeting to procure about 7.78 million bags or 389,000 MT of locally-produced palay.
Meanwhile, Dar defended his department’s proposal for an unconditional cash transfer (UCT) program for rice farmers affected by plunging prices of their produce.
This after farmers and rice stakeholders trooped to the Department of Agriculture (DA) to oppose DA’s proposal.
He said the UCT program aims to aid rice farmers from the initial impact of low palay prices as they transition to a liberalized rice system.
The program is “not a proof of failure. It’s part of [Republic Act 11203 or Rice Liberalization Law] to give assistance if necessary,” Dar said.
The proposal is just a “band-aid solution” and does not answer the problem created by the law, according to rice watch group Bantay Bigas and Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women.
Following the passage of the law, average farmgate price of palay has tremendously gone down. Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that the average farmgate price of palay reached P17.76 per kilo, down 18.6 percent year-on-year. Prices of the staple also reached to as low as P14 to P12 per kilo in some provinces.
The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) earlier said farmers have foregone around P40 billion in revenues as of end-June due to the 23-percent decline in palay prices year-on-year.