Sinag hails NFA move to halt rice importation


A LARGE coalition of farm groups welcomed the government’s decision to withdraw its proposal to buy imported rice, as it chided the National Food Authority (NFA) for its easy resort to imports at the expense of local producers.

“We welcome the decision of the National Food Authority [NFA] to withdraw its anti-farmer proposal to buy imported rice,” Jayson Cainglet, executive director of Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) said on Tuesday.

“We were already asking Congress to give zero budget to NFA if they continue to defy the order of the President [Ferdinand Marcos Jr.] and the clamor of the agriculture industry for the NFA to procure palay of our farmers,” he added.

“We urge the NFA to start buying palay from our farmers; let us incentivize and support our local farmers for a change,” Cainglet said.

Earlier, rice farmers in Tanauan, Leyte selling their palay (unhusked rice) to the NFA were to get an additional P2 per kilogram on top of the agency’s current buying price of P19.
                The local government has set aside P2 million for the implementation of Palay Marketing Assistance Program for Legislators and Local Government Units (PALLGU).

The municipal government of Tanauan was the first to implement the PALLGU in Eastern Visayas, a program meant to boost farmers’ productivity.

“The program seeks to provide opportunities for our rice farmers to maximize their income. This is an opportunity for us to serve our local farmers,” the local government said.

Meanwhile, Cainglet said that RTL (Rice Tariffication Law) is not the urgent problem now and it would need congressional action that will take time.

With or without RTL, it is the “neoliberal agenda” of the economic team with its unlimited import mantra that is prevailing, he said.

“Import as the only recourse! Imports to tame prices! Imports as the only solution! From rice, to onions, to pork and chicken, to sugar; it has failed,” Cainglet added.

Instead of amending the RTL, the DA should heed the President’s order to support efforts in lowering the costs of farm inputs, he said.

Meanwhile, the 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, DA official said.

In an interview, 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 (RA) 11203 or the RTL 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.

For his part, 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 not competitive, you get no 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.

Image credits: Nonie Reyes