NFA: Low supply of affordable rice, but no rice shortage in PH

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 7) — Officials of the National Food Authority (NFA) on Wednesday assured the public there is no nationwide rice shortage, but warned the poor will suffer from the lack of supply of affordable rice.

"Very low ang inventory sa NFA pero ang commercial at household mataas pa. Hindi kulang ang bigas, wala lang mabigay ang NFA sa poorest of the poor," NFA Administrator Jason Aquino said in a media briefing.

[Translation: The inventory of NFA rice is very low, but we have high supplies in the commercial and household. There is no rice shortage, but we don't have much to give to the poorest of the poor.]

The NFA caters to 10 percent of the total rice consumption of the country. It serves Classes D and E, or around 8 to 10 million Filipinos.

From the 64,000 bags of rice it used to release, the NFA is now down to 34,000 bags due to the depletion of stocks. It has also stopped sending stocks to retailers to be able to focus on providing rice for the calamity-stricken Legazpi City.

Aquino said with the only 1.2 million bags of rice remaining with the NFA, their stocks can only assist the poor for 18 days.

"At the rate of 34,000 bags daily na dini-distribute, 'yung buong inventory ng NFA will last 35 days na lang. Kung sa 10 percent participation, ang stocks ng NFA 18 days na lang," he said.

[Translation: At the rate of 34,000 bags being distributed, our inventory will last 35 days. If the 10 percent of the population buys NFA rice, our stocks will only last 18 days.]

He said with the NFA rice shortage, the masses have to resort to buying commercial rice — the price of which has already hiked up due to the lack of supply.

NFA rice is more affordable at P27 to P32 per kilo compared to commercial rice, which sells from P36 to P65 per kilo.

Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol has accused private rice traders of resorting to spreading rumors of a shortage.

"Rice traders who make money from importing rice are trying to scare government policymakers by making it appear that there is a rice shortage, to justify the entry of additional imported rice. It would also serve as a convenient excuse to increase the selling price of rice in the market which hurts Filipino consumers," he said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

NFA Region III Director Rex Estoperez told CNN Philippines NFA's buffer stock is only good for two days due to the deferment of the approval of rice importation.

The current two-day buffer stock is way below the required 15-day buffer stock or around 400,000 metric tons that the NFA should have in store at any given time.

The buffer supply is required to stabilize rice prices in the country. It is also supposed to serve as back-up in case the supply in commercial outlets and households deplete.

The required buffer stock is raised to 30 days or 800,000 metric tons from July to September every year, when there is almost no rice production due to the storms that hit the country around that time.

NFA: Grant rice importation request

Aquino appealed to the NFA Council, headed by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio "Jun" Evasco Jr., to approve their rice importation request to serve the poor.

"As early as November, we already requested to import 250,000 metric tons of rice. The approval has not been given until now. Council lahat nagde-decide [It is the council that decides]," he said.

Aquino said the National Food Security committee gives its recommendation to the NFA Council, which is made up of 10 members from several agencies.

"We have submitted all our recommendations, they heard our arguments," he said.

Aquino said that based on their meetings, the council finds no urgent need for the NFA to get imported rice because there is enough supply among commercial rice traders.

While the council is urged to approve the emergency purchase of rice, Aquino admitted it will not immediately address the problem.

"Kung at this moment aaprubahan ng council 'yung importation, it will take 45 days. (That's) 45 minus 35 days (of remaining stocks). Merong 10 days tayong walang stocks ang NFA," he said.

[Translation: If they approve the importation right now, it will take 45 days. Subtract that from the remaining days our stock can supply. It will leave us 10 days without stocks.]

Aquino added buying grains from local farmers is not an option because the NFA is mandated to purchase grains for only P17 per kilo, but the farmers are selling it from P19 to 22 per kilo to traders.

The NFA rice shortage prompted Senator Nancy Binay to call on the NFA to come up with measures to maintain the required buffer stocks.

"The NFA should make sure that the government's rice stock always meets the 15-day stockpile requirement," she said in a statement. "Since the agency is expecting the rice imports to be delivered in April or May, it should make sure that we have ample supply of rice should the need arise earlier."

Senator Cynthia Villar filed on Wednesday a resolution to conduct an inquiry on NFA's role in ensuring the stability of supply and price of rice.