By Madelaine B. Miraflor
NFA Council, the highest policy-making body panel that has a final say on importation, finally gave in to the request of National Food Authority (NFA) to use its standby authority to import 250,000 metric tons (MT) of rice to replenish its buffer stocks, which had recently gone down to its lowest monthly level in 10 years.
Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco, who chairs the NFA Council, said the importation, which will be conducted to stabilize the rising price of commercial rice, will be done through an open tender scheme or government-to-private (G2P) for a more transparent bidding process.
The delivery of the imported rice will be in June, just a few weeks before the lean season.
Evasco said there is no need rush as the country, one of the world’s biggest rice buyers, currently has 3.8 million MT of rice supply as of this month, which is is enough to cover 121 days of national consumption.
“We assure the public that there is no rice shortage,” Evasco said.
To recall, NFA Council already rejected the request of the state-run grains agency to import, citing abudance in supply.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol agreed to this, saying that the country has a huge inventory of locally produced rice.
Based on the data provided by Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Field Operations head Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan, the estimated buffer stocks by the end of the first quarter of 2018 stood around 3 million metric tons (MT), which would be enough to supply the daily consumption of 31,450 MT per day for 96 days.
Piñol said the 96-day buffer stock is one of the biggest rice inventories of the country in recent years and this was the result of a bumper harvest of 19.4 million MT for 2017, a record harvest for the country.
By the end of 2017, rice stocks in warehouses and home storages were recorded at 2.7 million MT, which would be good for 88 days of supply.
In the first quarter of this year, the production forecast is placed at 3.067 million MT of milled rice, which when added to the buffer rice stocks carried over from 2017, would place the first quarter rice supply at 5.8 million MT.
This did not stop NFA, with NFA Administrator Jason Aquino on insisting that the agency still has to replenish its stocks to stabilize the price in the market. A day later, President Rodrigo Duterte has backed Aquino’s request.
As the situation now favors Aquino, Evasco pointed out that the importation will be done through an open tender scheme among private suppliers because this is a more “inclusive, open and transparent method.” Critics have been saying that a lot of corruption occur during importation.
To recall, it was in the middle of last year when NFA Council also approved the importation of 250,000 MT of rice but via G2P deal.
Evasco said the government has to switch to G2P importation from government to government (G2G) in order to ensure a corrupt-free and competitive bidding process at the NFA.
“Hence instead of doing a G2G, the Council will push for a G2P to increase accountability and transparency. While the G2G is exempt from the Government Procurement Reform Act, G2P is not,” Evasco said in an earlier statement.
The NFA is required by law to have at least 15-day buffer stock at any given time, and 30-day buffer stock during lean months.
At present, the country’s daily consumption rate requirement is 32,720 metric tons or 654,600 bags.
It is estimated that there are about 6 to 10 million Filipinos who buy NFA rice.