Marcos keeps rice import option open, rules out rice crisis

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Marcos keeps rice import option open
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. rules out a rice crisis warning by Philippine farmers in the coming lean months of the second half of 2023
• But Marcos says he is keeping rice importation as an option to shore up the country’s dwindling buffer stock
• The President says Malacañang is worried about buying rice from the local farmers during the harvest season as that could drive rice prices up

President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has ruled out a rice crisis in the Philippines in the coming lean months of the second half of 2023, but kept the option of importing rice open to shore up the National Food Administration’s dwindling buffer stock.

Marcos, concurrently the agriculture secretary, told reporters in a chance interview in Bulacan on April 19 that sourcing the grain abroad seemed to be the only recourse.

His statement came just two days after one of his undersecretaries announced to media that NFA had dropped its proposal to import 330,000 metric tons of rice buffer stock before the next harvest after being rejected in a meeting of the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) National Program.

The President said the government may have to import rice to ensure supply before the next harvest season. He said that while supply may decrease, the government does not expect a rice crisis to ensue, as the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) has warned.

Marcos expressed concern at NFA’s receding rice buffer stock, saying the government is seeking ways to boost it without driving up rice prices. He said NFA is only allowed to buy rice from local farmers.

He said if NFA buys rice during the harvest season, the additional demand would drive rice prices up. Kaya’t iyon ang pinu-problema ngayon namin. Paano natin gagawin iyon? Saan natin kukunin yung pang-replenish doon sa NFA,” he said.

(That’s what worries us now. How do we do it? Where do we get the replenishment for NFA?)

Marcos said the country needs the buffer stock but the government is keenly guarding against price inflation in agricultural commodities, especially rice.

“We may have to import. So we’re keeping that option open,” he said.

On April 17, Agriculture Undersecretary for Policy, Planning and Regulations Mercedita Sombilla told a media briefing of the NFA’s withdrawn importation proposal raised by NFA Acting Administrator Robert Rayo Bioco.

Sombilla said that NFA, instead, was advised to source rice from local farmers so as not to breach the Rice Tariffication Law.

FFF national manager Raul Montemayor opposed NFA’s importation plan as it was against the law, but he estimated the nation’s rice stocks are good for just 27 days after June 30 if imports do not increase beyond the reported arrivals of 790,000 tons during the first quarter.

He said the country needs 1.2 million metric tons (MMT) of rice to ensure a 60-day buffer stock and avoid a rice crisis in the second half, as what occurred in 2017.

Sombilla, citing DA projections, said total rice production in 2023 is forecast to reach 13 MMT of milled rice or 20 MMT of the unmilled grain.