By Madelaine B. Miraflor
While there’s an ongoing appeal from farmers for President Rodrigo Duterte to veto the Rice Tariffication Bill because it may stop National Food Authority (NFA) from buying rice from them, the state-run grains agency allocated as much as P7 billion next year for its local palay procurement scheme.
Under the Rice Tariffication Bill, which is now awaiting for President Duterte’s signature to become a law, the NFA will no longer be allowed to import rice for its buffer stocks.
The bill will make up for the lifting of the quantitative restriction (QR) on rice imports through the imposition of 35 percent tariff on rice coming from member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) like Thailand and Vietnam.
Its passage signals the entry of unrestricted volume of cheaper imported rice.
For Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, “it is welcome development” in a sense that the NFA will be focused on the procurement of palay produced by Filipino farmers.
For 2019, NFA, which operates under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture (DA), has allocated P7 billion for, local palay procurement alone.
Piñol said that overall, not allowing NFA to import will help the DA and the NFA in changing the image of the rice agency.
“Through the years of its involvement in the rice importation program for buffer stocking, suspicions were rife that there were financial transactions involved where officials raked in money,” Piñol said.
“For us in the DA, who were not spared from intrigues in the highly profitable business of rice importation, this will be a welcome relief,” he added.
On December 4, a group of farmers made last ditch effort to ask Duterte to veto the Rice Tariffication Bill as they fear that some provisions of the law will spell doom to the local rice industry and “death for many of them who are totally dependent on their hand-to-mouth farming industry.”
Based on the draft of the Rice Tariffication Law, the NFA shall no longer provide price support to farmers as its function had been limited to buffer stocking for emergencies and disaster relief programs.
As a result, the NFA — currently mandated to a rice buffer stock good to last for 15 days at any given time and for 30 days at the onset of the lean months — may only need about a million bags of rice or 50,000 metric tons (MT) versus the actual annual rice production of about 12 million MT.
In a joint statement, farmers pointed that this would result to a steep decline in demand for locally produced rice.