The Federation of Free Farmers does not sit well with the move to import more rice and the government’s call on ASEAN trading partners to refrain from imposing trade restrictive measures.
Andy G. Zapata Jr./File
Additional rice imports to send wrong signal to farmers – FFF
Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - March 30, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Farmers may be at the losing end anew as the government plans to import an additional 300,000 metric tons of rice via government-to-government scheme, even as the Department of Agriculture encourages local rice farmers to continue planting.

The Federation of Free Farmers does not sit well with the move to import more rice and the government’s call on ASEAN trading partners to refrain from imposing trade restrictive measures.

“They should have kept this plan under wraps for now. DA is asking farmers to plant, plant, plant, but at the same time they are already thinking of importing. Farmers will feel DA is taking them for a ride,” FFF national manager Raul Montemayor told The STAR.

“(Agriculture Secretary William) Dar just said private imports are continuing and there are many other sources of rice aside from Vietnam. So why talk about government imports now?” he said.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles recently said DA has been tasked to work on the importation of an additional 300,000 MT of rice through government-to-government arrangements with ASEAN trading partners and/or from all sources, including India and Pakistan at the ASEAN-level tariff.

This after Vietnam, the country’s biggest rice supplier, decided to temporarily halt its rice exports.

Even with the Rice Tariffication Law already in place, President Duterte could still direct the Philippine International Trading Corp. or the Department of Trade and Industry to import.

The law only prohibits the National Food Authority from buying rice from the world market.

“Still, I suppose they can always assign any government agency, even DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) as the importer on record and then let NFA handle logistics and distribution to skirt the NFA import prohibition. But again, it sends the wrong message to farmers,” Montemayor said.

However, even NFA said there is no need to import, at least for the time being.

“Not now. But maybe (after) a few months, if the private sector will not import,” NFA administrator Judy Dansal told The STAR.

Dansal said NFA has more than enough rice in its inventory after the RTL directed the grains agency to beef up its local procurement.

“For NFA, we have (enough). I am not sure for the private now because they applied for permits to import 1.6 million MT.

According to Sec. Dar, only 489,000 MT has arrived,” she said.

“We no longer have the data on private (inventory) because we no longer have the way to determine since we do not regulate them anymore. We cannot do warehouse visits, that was removed in the law,” Dansal said.

On the other hand, Montemayor said palay (unhusked rice) prices are going over NFA’s P19 per kilogram buying price, which means that NFA may not be able to compete with traders for farmers’ palay.

“Why not temporarily increase its buying price, package it both as an incentive and COVID assistance to farmers, instead of opting for imports? This will send a more consistent and credible message to farmers,” Montemayor said.

“Why not focus first on encouraging farmers to plant, plant, plant? And if they want to beef up NFA stocks, why not focus on buying local, as RTL mandates?” he said.

Further, Rice Watch Action Network Inc. (R1) reiterated its call to prioritize the country’s food self-reliance amid Vietnam’s recent decision.

“While there are alternative rice exporting countries where we can source our supply, there is a high level of uncertainty with global recession in the horizon,” R1 executive director Hazel Tanchuling said.

“We become very vulnerable as global shocks like today’s global pandemic and the 2008 rice crisis can raise international rice prices to the roof as supply becomes tight and countries hold on to their food supply for their own needs,” she said.

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