Agriculture Secretary William Dar on Thursday recommended that the Philippines have at least two months' worth of rice buffer stocking in order to ensure food security amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dar made the remark during the House panel deliberations on the proposed budget of the Department of Agriculture (DA) for 2021.
According to Dar, the National Food Authority's (NFA) rice buffer stocking is good for 15 days already, but he was hoping for a bigger cushion.
"Ako mismo, officially, I would recommend na kung pwede lang dalawang buwan ay meron tayong buffer stocking, good for two months, para mas marami tayong resource or rice during the pandemic," he said.
"I believe na dagdagan natin yung buffer stocking level ng bansa," he added.
Dar raised the issue of rice buffer stocking after Gabriela Women's Party Representative Arlene Brosas asked the DA about the assistance the department gave to farmers amid the pandemic.
According to Dar, the assistance include the Rice Farmers Financial Subsidy amounting to P3 billion, the financial subsidy for rice farmers worth P3 billion, and the P10 billion under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).
The RCEF, provided under the Rice Tariffication Law, was set to help local farmers improve their livelihood. The fund will come from the tariff collections from the rice import.
But Brosas insisted that the Rice Tariffication Law did more harm to the farmers than good.
"Ang banggit sa atin ng ating mga magsasaka, hirap na hirap sila sa rice liberalization law pero hindi nabebenta yung kanilang produkto. Talaga bang nagbebenefit tayong consumers?" she said.
"Mas makikinabang kung direktang bilhin ng NFA at ng gobyerno ang produkto ng mga magsasaka lalo na ang palay, gulay at iba pang mga produktong agrikultura," she added.
Signed in February last year, the Rice Tariffication Law allows unlimited importation of rice as long as private sector traders secure a phytosanitary permit from the Bureau of Plant Industry and pay the 35% tariff for shipments from neighbors in Southeast Asia.
But Dar said the national government provided additional assistance to the agriculture sector to increase the country's rice sufficiency level by another 7%, from the current 86%, to reach 93%.
"By the end of this year, yun ang pwede nating ma-achieve in terms of increase elevating the rice sufficiency level sa ating bansa," he said.
"With the additional stimulus package given to the agriculture, we need to increase for all basic commodities, higher levels of sufficiency. Alam natin kahit ito bago nag-COVID tayo ay importing country kasi hindi natin pino-produce dito sa bansa. We have to elevate that game in terms of producing more food," he added.
The DA is proposing a budget of P86.3 billion for 2021, which is P6.4 billion higher than its allocation for 2020. — BM, GMA News