Wednesday, October 2, 2013
MANILA-Amid issues on rice price hike, Senator Loren Legarda stressed the need for strengthened support for farmers to increase the country’s rice productivity.
Reports say that National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Sec. Arsenio Balisacan’s “Memorandum for the President” dated 10 September 2013 informed President Benigno Aquino III about the country’s true rice situation: domestic supplies are low and can only be augmented by importing 500 metric tons (MT) of rice.
“This probably explains why the public continues to be burdened with unstable rice prices despite assurances from agricultural officials that buffer stocks are sufficient and production figures within target,” said Legarda who had earlier filed Senate Resolution No. 233, which paved the way for the Senate agriculture committee's inquiry on the matter.
Reports further say that Balisacan's memorandum details how the third quarter production forecast of 7.4 million MT does not suffice to cover total utilization amounting to 9.1 million MT, a deficit of 1.7 million MT without buffer stocks, which can even balloon to 2.6 million MT if a 30-day buffer stock is factored in.
“This is alarming because it goes beyond just the issue of rice self-sufficiency. It has become a food security concern,” warned Legarda. “If domestic production cannot meet demand, prices will naturally increase - as they already have – which may lead to widespread hunger if unabated.”
Import, but not through the NFA
In his memorandum for the President, Balisacan supposedly recommended the importation of at least half-a-million MT of rice to “address the projected supply gap and stabilize prices or possibly lower them.”
Previous policy recommendations by both the NEDA and the country's rice self-sufficiency roadmap, the Food Staples Security Program (FSSP) have consistently maintained, however, that importations should be done by the private sector and not the National Food Authority (NFA).
Balisacan, himself a former agriculture undersecretary, in various published papers, had proposed “relieving the NFA of the burden of handling rice imports” supposedly because of the corruption associated with these transactions.
It was previously alleged that the DA-NFA’s April importation was overpriced by as much as nearly half-a-billion pesos.
“We will continue to look into those allegations. What is certain is that government should spend more for irrigation development programs that will increase productivity in the countryside and provide better livelihood opportunities for our farmers,” said Legarda, a known advocate of sustainable agricultural development.