Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on Monday blocked a proposal by the National Food Authority (NFA) to immediately import rice and secure the government’s buffer stock, at least until the end of harvest season in June.
“The President did not issue a ‘no importation’ order. All that he said was that importation of rice should not be made during the peak harvest season of the local rice farms,” Piñol told reporters.
“There may be shortfall in their [NFA] buffer stock, but it doesn’t mean that there is shortage in the overall stock [in the country],” he said.
Piñol noted the country has enough rice reserves with more than 4.14 million metric tons of palay harvest in the first quarter of the year, on top of the 250,000 metric tons (MT) imported last December and 650,000 MT that arrived last month.
“Anong shortage ang pinag-uusapan natin? We are talking at least 4 million metric tons of rice, and the country’s consumption of about 10.5 million MT every year,” he said.
NFA Administrator Jason Laureano Aquino earlier made a call for the 250,000 MT rice imports under a standby authority as part of preparations for possible calamities during the lean months of July to September.
Aquino also said the government needs to secure from international suppliers another 490,800 MT of rice for buffer stock, noting that the NFA will not be able to buy from local farmers due to higher prices offered by private traders.
The Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) has mandated the NFA to maintain a 15-day rice buffer stock at any given time and 30 days during the lean months, based on a daily consumption of 32,150 MT or 643,000 bags.
Aquino stressed that the only way the NFA can fill the deficit in its rice reserves is through importation.
“Ideally, the whole volume should arrive in the country within April to allow the NFA to preposition the stocks, especially in calamity-prone areas across the country,” he said.
In an earlier report by the National News Bureau of Thailand, the Thai Commerce Ministry said the Philippines plans to import 1.3 million MT of rice this year, from 450,000 MT last year.
“Should there be any importation, it should be done by the NFA,” Piñol said.
Piñol is pushing for the creation of a Task Force that would look into the “real” rice situation in the country, saying the latest supply statistics were distorted and unreliable.
“We need to establish the actual rice stock situation so that the government could come up with the correct statistics which could be the basis of sound agricultural planning, especially when it comes to the country’s rice production program,” the Department of Agriculture (DA) chief said on Facebook.
The interagency task force will include the DA, NFA, Department of Trade and Industry, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), National Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Customs and Philippine National Police.
“I will ask the President to empower the Task Group to open and inspect all grains warehouses all over the country,” he said. “Hopefully, the Task Force will be able to give us accurate baseline information and a very clear picture of the rice industry in the country.”
There should be an accurate inventory of actual rice stocks, Piñol said, including smuggled rice that enters the country.
“Sino makakapagsabi ng actual inventory ng rice stocks all over the country? Walang makakapagsabi, not even PSA,” Piñol said.
“If we really would like to establish a credible stock position, we need to factor in the smuggled rice. The only way to do this is to inspect all warehouses nationwide,” he added.
Based on figures from lobby group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag), the Philippines imported 1.8 million MT on average from 2006 to 2015, significantly higher than the minimum access volume of 350,000 MT in 2006 to 2011 and 805,200 MT in 2012 to 2015.
The group said smuggled rice reached as high as 1 million MT in 2012, when private traders were allowed to import. It noted rice smuggling was more controlled when private sector importation was limited in 2013 and 2014.
Piñol said the warehouse inspections, including the actual inventory of the NFA, would start this second quarter.
The official, however, failed to mention how the task force will conduct the inspection on household stocks, which holds over half of the country’s rice stock.
As of March 1, the total rice inventories were good for two months at 2.18 million MT. Households accounted for 53 percent of the inventory, commercial warehouses held 28.81 percent and NFA was holding 18.24 percent.