ADDRESS ROOT CAUSES OF NFA RICE SHORTAGE
Rice price hike is still an alarming issue and despite calls from various concerned groups advocating for food security and safe and affordable quality rice for all, the government is still doing nothing to stop it.
Since the beginning of the year, some retailers have already expressed their concern over the shortage of rice supply from the National Food Authority, prompting them to resort to selling expensive commercial rice. This shortage caused an increase of P1 to P4 per kilo in commercial rice, which now ranges from P40 to P54 as compared to NFA rice which sells from P27 to P32.
The supply shortage has led the government to use it as an excuse to import rice at a cheap price from other countries. The government has again chosen rice importation instead of local palay procurement. In the end, the Duterte administration failed to resolve the reason behind the recurring NFA rice supply shortage and resulting price hike.
Farmers continue to earn meager amounts from selling palay and bury themselves in debt due to high agricultural costs and expenses, and traders who monopolize the rice industry. In this interplay, it is clear who the losers are: farmers and consumers, especially the poor. There is the imminent danger of experiencing hunger more often. This severe situation is further aggravated by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, which also imposes higher taxes on petroleum, sugar, and other basic commodities that are necessary for the poor to survive.
The government needs to prioritize local palay procurement over importation. If the NFA would use its P7-billion budget to procure local rice, it would not only help farmers but the consumers, too. The government can also implement a provisional price control until the issue on supply is resolved.
For long-term remedy on the chronic rice crisis, the government should strengthen local rice production through development and preservation of traditional rice varieties that are better suited to the farmers’ needs and farm conditions. Most important is the enactment of a genuine agrarian reform program that would end the centuries-old problem of land monopoly and provide adequate and sufficient support services and subsidies to local farmers, as well as veer away from neoliberal policies which have caused damage on local agriculture, especially on farmers’ livelihood and the local rice industry.
CATHY ESTAVILLO, spokesperson, Bantay Bigas, email@example.com