As a farmers’ group called for the abolition of the National Food Authority over its supposed preference for rice imports, two senators recently challenged the agency to prove its worth by helping farmers and buying their produce at higher prices.
“If the NFA is filling up its buffer stock with imported rice, then [it] has a lot of explaining to do. And if NFA really turns out to be an agency that cannot fulfill its role, then I am open to the idea of abolishing (it),” Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said.
Sen. Francis Escudero, a member of the Senate committee on agriculture, also called on the NFA to belie reports it has become useless and ineffective. “I think the call for the abolition of the NFA is their way of saying that ‘it’s useless anyway, so why not just abolish it,’” he noted.
Escudero however noted that with a measly funding of only P8.5 billion, the NFA cannot possibly procure enough palay from local farmers at a higher price and sell it at a lower price to consumers. He raised the need to revisit the NFA charter in order to strengthen its power and capacity to fulfill its mandate.
The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) claimed on Sunday that instead of buying rice from local farmers like them, the NFA was favoring importers like India and Vietnam. “(It’s) not buying from our farmers anymore. (It’s) negotiating (with Vietnam and India) on rice,” Sinag president Rosendo So said in a statement as he also expressed concern that the agency may already be using its P8.5 billion fund for local rice procurement this year on imports.
As of last week local rice was priced at P55 to P62 per kilo, up from P38 to P50 per kilo, based on the DA’s price monitoring, and nowhere near from the campaign promise of P20 per kilo that was made by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is also the concurrent Agriculture Secretary.
Under Republic Act No. 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Act, the NFA is responsible for maintaining the optimal level of rice inventory in the country, to be sourced solely from local producers. This is opposite its role before the law was enacted in 2019, as it had the sole authority to import rice and regulate its entry.
As the staple food of Filipinos, the availability and affordability of rice should be a primary concern of the government, and whatever role the National Food Authority plays in ensuring that things don’t get out of hand should be taken seriously by those in charge of it. If its mandate has been changed to put emphasis on local producers, then importation shouldn’t be its focus. However, if the changes were made without being given enough thought, especially regarding long-term impacts, then it would be best for our lawmakers to review their work and ensure that all the moving parts of government are capable of working together, especially when it comes to critical issues like food security and preventing hunger.*