NFA directed to import rice to increase buffer stock

MANILA The National Food Authority (NFA) has been directed to import 250,000 metric tons of rice to increase its current buffer stock, the NFA Council announced Thursday.

The directive to start the procurement process of the approved standby authority to import rice, was issued during an NFA Council meeting attended by President Rodrigo R. Duterte on March 19.

NFA Council Chairperson Leoncio Jun Evasco said the directive was made despite a very sufficient supply of rice for the entire country to date.

This is to allow the NFA to have enough buffer stock for the upcoming lean months of the year, in which rice harvest is at its lowest, Evasco said in a statement read by Jonas George Soriano, assistant secretary for Project Performance Management Office.

Evasco explained that the term of reference (TOR) adopted in the 2017 government-to-private procurement will be used to import rice.

The reason of using the same TOR is to ensure immediate procurement of imported rice based on the guidelines of the procurement law, he said.

Soriano said President Duterte has reminded the council to make sure that the NFA has always enough buffer stock.

He said the new rice import is expected to arrive in May.

During the NFA Council meeting, the members have emphasized the urgency to expedite the amendment of Republic Act No. 8178, otherwise known as the Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996.

Evasco said the bill, if enacted into law, would protect local rice farmers from the lifting of the quantitative restriction on rice imports and will provide the country additional income through higher tariffs for imported agricultural products.

The bill seeks to prescribe tariff rates for rice importations, strengthen the rice sector to meet the head on challenges of import threats and keep the Philippine food secure and provide funds to be allocated to the rice sector, based on a rice industry roadmap, he explained.

The passage of the law will also help address the financial viability of the NFA which, Evasco said, continues to incur a net loss subsidy due to high interest and financial charges.

The council also supported the conduct of a special audit of NFA's procurement and distribution operations to make NFA cost-effective and operationally efficient.

It also called on the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to intensify rice price monitoring to ensure unwarranted increases or price manipulation, according to Evasco.

The NFA has also been directed to increase domestic buying of palay, particularly during the early days of harvest months.

The main thrust is to buy locally first, prior to considering importation. We protect our farmers first, Evasco said.

Agriculture Secretary Manny PiAol informed the council that the country is nearing rice self-sufficiency.

To achieve rice self-sufficiency, PiAol said the competitiveness of the local rice industry must be improved, farm income must be increased, and there must be access to safe and nutritious rice and enhanced disaster resiliency for rice farms.

We would like to assure the public that the NFA Council is keen on ensuring continued supply of affordable rice for the Filipino people, Evasco said.

Source: Philippine News Agency