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Plan to import 330,000 metric tons of rice scrapped –DA

The National Food Authority’s (NFA's) proposal to import 330,000 metric tons of rice to replenish its buffer stock has been dropped as the government prefers to procure the needed supply locally, a top official of the Department of Agriculture (DA) said.

In an interview with reporters, DA Undersecretary for Policy, Planning, and Regulations Mercedita Sombilla said she understood where “the NFA is coming from” when it proposed the importation due to concerns of depleting this year's buffer stock.

However, Sombilla said NFA Administrator Robert Bioco understood that the NFA could not import since Republic Act No. 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law mandated it to source its emergency buffer stocking of rice from local farmers.

“Because of fears, he was proposing to source it outside,” she said, noting that importation was no longer discussed during the DA official’s meeting with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who also sits as Agriculture secretary, to address the lean buffer stock situation.

“Wala kaming napagusapan na importation. I think the President knew about that na hindi pwede mag-import ang NFA,” Sombilla said.

“The National Rice Program will be talking with the NFA about how they can really secure the 330,000 [MT] from local sources,” she added.

Procurement price

In a separate interview, DA Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Rex Estoperez said the NFA should increase its procurement price of palay - currently at P19 per kilo - to be competitive with the private sector as it aims to build up its lean buffer stock.

“If you are building your buffer stock you should be competitive with the private sector. If hindi competitive, wala kang makukuhang buffer stock,” Estoperez said.

The DA official said the NFA had the needed funding to increase its procurement price; while the NFA Council, the agency’s governing body, can recommend increasing the buying price of palay.

Last week, the Palace announced that the NFA was proposing the importation of 330,000 MT of rice “to cover an expected deficit in the country’s buffer stock for the relief operations of various agencies in the event of calamities this year.”

The proposed buffer stock of rice was equivalent to nine days of national consumption from July 2023 onwards and “will ensure sufficient volume for calamity and relief requirements from July to December this year.”

Marcos, however, said the NFA should buy its buffer stock from local farmers.

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Executive Director Jayson Cainglet said the group welcomed the NFA decision to drop its importation proposal.

“We were already asking Congress to give zero budget to NFA if they continue to defy the order of the President and the clamor of the agriculture industry for the NFA to procure the palay of our farmers,” Cainglet said.

“We urge the NFA to start buying palay from our farmers. Let us incentivize and support our local farmers for a change,” Cainglet added. — DVM, GMA Integrated News