Members of farmers and consumers groups under the umbrella Bantay Bigas staged a protest action in front of the National Food Authority (NFA) office in Quezon City on Friday, seeking support to raise plummeting prices of palay (unmilled rice) from local farmers and to release cheaper rice into the market.
Cathy Estavillo, Bantay Bigas spokesman and secretary general of women farmers’ group Amihan, said farmers needed at least a P20 per kilo support price for palay to cover the cost of production. She noted that palay prices had plunged to as low as P6 for fresh palay harvested from far-flung areas in Nueva Ecija to P14 in various areas of the country since the start of harvesting period in August.
“Inirerehistro namin yung panawagan ng malawak na bilang ng mga magsasaka d’un sa kailangan nang mag-step in ng NFA na sila at bilhin na ngayon ang palay ng magsasaka sa halagang hindi dapat bababa sa P20 per kilo (We would like to register the call of a large number of farmers for the NFA to step-in and buy our farmers’ palay for at least P20 per kilo),” Estavillo said.
On Thursday, Agriculture Secretary William Dar ordered the NFA to level its buying price for palay to P19 per kilo and to release imported stocks held by the agency into the markets to lower the prices of milled rice.
Estavillo pointed out that as an effect of Republic Act 11203, or the “Rice Tariffication Law,” the prices of palay have dropped compared to those in 2018, when the average was P20 to P23.
“Ang pagbaha ng imported na bigas dahil sa rice liberalization law, ‘yun ang dahilan kung bakit ganon kababa yung pamimili ng traders sa palay ng mga magsasaka (Rice traders have been buying local farmers’ palay at a low price due to the large quantities of imported rice because of the rice liberalization law),” Estavillo said.
Based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority in 2018, palay bought at P20 per kilo would yield an average gross income of P77,400 for 1 hectare. The average production cost of P49,745 leaves farmers with a net income of P27,655, or P6,913.75 monthly or P230.46 daily.
Bantay Bigas asked the NFA to buy at least 10 percent of locally produced palay to help regulate existing prevailing low prices of the commodity.
Consumers from Bantay Bigas also demanded for the release of NFA’s 4 million sacks of imported rice that remains in stock. Estavillo said selling it at P27 per kilo could also help regulate rice prices in the market that would help poor consumers avail of affordable rice. Average rice prices in the market was at P38 per kilo, Estavillo said.
“Sa kabila ng mura ang imported na bigas nananatili namang mataas ang presyo ng bigas sa ating palengke. Dahil sa na-liberalize ‘yung ating industriya sa bigas, nawala ‘yung mandate ng NFA na i-regulate ‘yung presyo nito (Depite the low prices of imported rice, high prices of rice in markets persist. Because of the liberalization of the rice industry, NFA lost its mandate to regulate prices),” Estavillo said.