DA chief: Best to leave to private sector task of importing rice to fill 2017 gap

May 12, 2017 - 3:43 PM
NFA rice stock
Rice stocks at a National Food Authority warehouse. PHILSTAR file photograph

MANILA – Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has acknowledged that the country could feel a pinch in rice supply later this year, but would rather that importing rice to fill the gap be left to the private sector.

According to data gathered by Piñol’s office from the International Rice Research Institute, the expected shortfall in 2017 could range from 500,000 to 800,000 metric tons. This compares with 1.8 million m.t. in previous years, a decline that officials partly trace to lower consumption of rice by Filipino consumers.

Despite the foreseen shortfall for the year, Piñol stressed that the supply for now is still sufficient, and the gap is only as far as the buffer stock is concerned.

The DA chief said he has recommended importation to President Duterte, in order to stabilize the price of rice. If the 2017 shortfall were to be addressed, however, it is better in Piñol’s view to leave the importing to the private sector to avoid bloating the financial burden of the National Food Authority (NFA).

He has also recommended that in future harvests, the government should buy from local farmers to beef up a buffer stock that’s good for six months, and avoid the shortage.

“We have to admit there is still a shortfall of about 500,000 to 800,000 metric tons every year and that’s for 2017. Now, that volume of rice should be imported,” Piñol said Friday.

“If the intention of government is to import or beef up buffer stock to respond to calamities and abnormal increases of price of rice in specific areas, the best option would be NFA importing. If you allow the private sector to import, rice [that] would be imported by the private sector would go to private warehouses and government won’t have possession. How will they have possession?”

Piñol added that if “the intention is to fill up the shortfall for this year,” then the best option is to “let the private sector do it.”

This option, he said, “should apply for this procurement.” He said he recommended this last April 26 to the President.

In India, Piñol noted, the government buys palay produce of farmers during the start of the harvest season to stock up for 6 months. “This is the same proposal I have recommended to President [Duterte]. Why should NFA import rice? Let NFA buy local produce if the intention is to come up with a buffer stock.”

Eventually, he said, “NFA would no longer be indebted because it will avoid uncessary expenses.”