A group of farmers on Tuesday asked the Department of Agriculture to reconsider the decision extending the validity of rice import permits which they said will further depress the price of local harvests.
The Federation of Free Farmers said the timing of the 25-day extension was “ill-advised” as farmers would start the dry season harvest in a few months, most likely by March 2021.
It said the bumper harvest in the second semester this year would raise the country’s rice self-sufficiency level despite the successive calamities that befell the country.
The DA issued Memorandum Circular 43 on Dec. 16, giving rice import clearance holders an extra 25 days to bring in rice shipments to curb “possible delays in the delivery of their rice orders.”
The FFF said the government should protect the welfare of local farmers and producers, as stated on the circular. It said the DA suspended the issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances in September 2020 as a belated response to the drastic drop in palay prices during the wet harvest season.
It said, however, the department neglected to clarify that SPSICs issued before the suspension order had a validity period of at least 60 days. As a result, over 131,000 metric tons or 2.64 million bags of rice imports still arrived during the peak harvest period between October and December.
Data showed as of Dec. 4, total rice imports reached 1.974 million tons, surpassing the 1.857 million tons imported in the first ten months of implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law from March to December 2019.
FFF national manager Raul Montemayor said there was is no logical and consistent basis “for allowing or suspending the issuance of SPSICs”.
“As a result, the DA usually reacts and suspends the issuance of clearances only when it is already too late, and then relaxes the rules even when it is too early,” he said.
“The DA’s job is to maintain stock levels within a target range and then calibrate the arrival of imports that would supplement local production, so as to avoid supply gluts or shortages. It will be irresponsible for the DA to rely on traders to strike this balance and temper their appetite for making money,” he said.
Montemayor asked the DA to name the “concerned stakeholders” that were consulted before its decision to relax the deadline for import arrivals, for transparency.
“In all likelihood, the DA only talked with importers and traders and did not get the opinion of farmers and other affected parties. This contradicted the agency’s previous circulars mandating consultations not only with importers but also producers to “assess local supply and demand appropriately,” Montemayor said.