Piñol: Rice prices to stabilize soon, won't go below ₱40/kilo

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 10) — The Department of Agriculture (DA) said the price of commercial rice is expected to stabilize by November, but it will not fall below the P40 mark.

Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said Monday, "Nasa kwarenta, kwarenta'y dos kasi mataas ang bilihan ng palay ng farmers."

[Translation: It will be 40, 42 (pesos) because farmers still sell it for a high price.]

The expected price stabilization will be due to the increase in supply, as November marks the start of the harvest season, he said.

While Piñol insisted there was no shortage of the grain, he said speculation about supply has led to higher farm gate prices for "palay" or unmilled rice.

From an average price of ₱19 per kilo last year, palay is now sold for as high as ₱29 per kilo.

Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, said she wants the DA to impose a price ceiling on rice to prevent traders from taking advantage of consumers..

Piñol said economic managers shot the proposal down.

"They said it's not going to work," Piñol said.

He attributed the DA's budget cut to economic managers' low regard for agriculture, noting the cut would affect agriculture projects for 2019.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) proposed a budget of ₱55.9 billion for the DA next year, which is 10 percent lower than the agency's current budget of ₱62.5 billion.

Piñol said, "Ang pagkakasabi niya, parang rice production is not among the priority programs... I actually talked to (Socio-economic Planning Secretary Ernesto) Pernia about this. Ang sabi ko, sana wag 'yung ganoong statements kasi nakaka-discourage."

[Translation: They said it's like rice production is not among the priority programs... I actually talked to Secretary Pernia about this. I said, I hope there were no statements like that because it's discouraging.]

Malacañang said it is eyeing the appointment of a customs official, who will focus on signing and approving import permits for rice, to bring rice prices down. The appointment will also prevent delays in rice importation, it added.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said, "Kasi naaantala yung importation kasi minsan yung pumipirma, kasama ng chairman ng Customs. So natatambak o hindi pipirmahan yung import permits."

[Translation: Importation is delayed because sometimes the person who has to sign is with the Customs chair. So, import permits pile up or are not signed.]

Villar urged the DA to shift its focus to mechanizing rice production to help farmers achieve higher yield at a lower cost.

She said the Philippine Rice Research Institute should also share its technology with farmers instead of offering it to big companies.

"Wala nang batang gustong mag-plant. Ngayon, kung i-memechanize natin, baka bumalik sila kasi di naman sila magpa-plant, magpapatakbo sila ng makina... Philrice should teach them how to produce these inbred seeds na sila na ang gagawa, ibibigay lang natin yung learning, yung technology," she said.

[Translation: No child wants to plant now. Now, if we mechanize it, they might return because they won't physically plant, they will operate the machines... Philrice should teach them how to produce these inbred seeds that they will make, we will only have to give the learning, the technology.]

Piñol said he's hoping the issues regarding rice would be a wake-up call for the government to realize that agriculture is an important sector that deserves funding and attention.