May 16, 2017 (By: Leila B. Salaverria - Reporter / @LeilasINQ )
The National Food Authority Council (NFAC) has decided to import rice through the private sector to augment the country’s buffer stock of its staple food in the coming lean season, a month after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a stop to rice importation to protect farmers who had posted a high yield from their crops.
At the same time, the NFA will intensify the purchase of local produce from farmers to maintain a good buffer stock while waiting for the arrival of more stocks from rice importation, according to Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco.
The council was just waiting for the recommendation of the National Food
Security Committee on the volume of rice to be imported.
“This is unanimous because the President, during the last Cabinet meeting, had been given the opportunity to listen to the position of the NFA Council where there is really a need for us to import,” Evasco said in a news briefing. “That’s why the President said that, since this time NFA will no longer have the monopoly of importing rice, so we should open importation through private sector.”
This, he added, was a “policy shift.”
Duterte earlier fired Evasco’s deputy, Undersecretary Maia Chiara Halmen Valdez, for supposedly allowing rice importation during the harvest season. Valdez allegedly overrode the decision of NFA administrator Jason Aquino not to extend the permits of rice importersj to obtain rice from abroad.
Duterte had also directed the NFA to buy rice from farmers for the buffer and only allow importation in case of a supply shortfall.
Asked on Tuesday if the change in the President’s position vindicated Valdez, Evasco replied that “to some extent it admits that there is really a need for us to import.”
He also said the NFA administrator was present during the NFAC’s meeting on Monday and was “supportive” of the council’s decision.
Aquino earlier pushed for government to government rice importation, despite the council’s position to allow private sector importation.
The NFA has to maintain a rice buffer stock enough for 15 days at any given time, and enough for 30 days at the onset of the lean months. Evasco said the country’s daily consumption rate requirement is 32,720 metric tons or 654,600 bags.
According to Evasco, government-to-private rice importation was “more competitive, least corrupt, and transparent.”
With private suppliers allowed to participate in the bidding to be allowed to import rice to the country, the process would be covered by the procurement law, unlike in a government-to-government scheme where there is no bidding, he said.
“We have to make drastic changes in order to ensure a corrupt-free and competitive bidding process at the NFA,” he added.
As to whether the importation of rice would be detrimental to farmers, Evasco said the Department of Agriculture should motivate, inspire and support the farmers to produce enough rice for the Filipinos.
But while the country has yet to achieve rice self-sufficiency, the NFA would have to import.
“NFA should buy rice in the meantime that DA has not yet come up wth the formula that the Philippines would be sufficient with rice,” Evasco said. /atm