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Monday, June 24, 2024

NFA to intervene to arrest rising price of rice—DA

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Agriculture Sec. Francisco Tiu Laurel on Tuesday said the National Food Authority (NFA) should intervene in the market amid the rising cost of rice.

“That’s the basic thought during this times that the price of rice is 15-year high in the world,” said Laurel in response to the query of Sen. Francis Tolentino.

During the public hearing of the Senate committee on agriculture and food chaired by Sen. Cynthia Villar, Tolentino quizzed Laurel on the real intention of the Executive Department to restore the previous powers granted to the NFA.

The House is set to start its deliberations on proposed amendments to the RTL to restore the NFA power to import and sell rice to consumers.

Tiu Laurel also raised concern that the El Niño phenomenon might affect our rice production.

“And if we are to make computations on the current price  of rice and its retail price,” Laurel said, “there appears to be a need for intervention to keep traders honest.”

While the NFA will have to arbitrate during these times, Laurel clarified the real intent is not to give full power back to the NFA.

But the plan here is to use NFA as a conduit to operationalize. He said the intervention may be once or twice a year, but under the supervision of two secretaries from the Department of Agriculture (DA).

“But not through the authority of anybody in the NFA.  What we were saying is that if we can give the authority to the DA Secretary.”

Laurel said he agrees with Villar that authority can also be granted to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. , but he said the latter is “very busy with so many things.”

“Perhaps, reactions might be late.  And  we, in the DA, can conduct monitoring every day. We can technically foresee whatever may happen so we can  act accordingly.”

He also doesn’t like what happened to the NFA when its power was clipped due to some irregularities.  The Ombudsman suspended 139 NFA officials and employees.

Saying he is allergic to anomalies, Laurel said the NFA has a new administration. Also, he will not tolerate any corruption under his administration.

Villar has been strongly objecting to giving back powers to the NFA due to bad experiences. She said the agency has been hounded with several controversies and issues, and failed to help the country’s small farmers. She suggested to hand over the power to the President rather than the NFA.

Sen. Imee Marcos said they have lost trust in the NFA because of “kababalaghan.”

She recommended the creation of a presidential commission or task force on rice sufficiency aside from the DA or the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Price Council that would focus on the rice needs of the public.

Meanwhile, Secretary Tiu Laurel urged lawmakers to support the extension of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) – a key component of the Rice Tariffication Law beyond its 2025 expiration.

Tiu Laurel’s report to the Congressional Oversight Committee on Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization chaired by Senator Cynthia Villar said the RCEF has allowed the government to leverage significant tariff from imported rice to enhance farmers’ productivity and incomes.

“The RTL has leveraged tariff revenues to fund critical initiatives that have brought transformative changes to our agricultural landscape. Notably, the provision of high-quality seeds and modern machinery through the RCEF has led to a remarkable increase in rice yields and a reduction in production costs,” Tiu Laurel said.

The Rice Fund “has provided a substantial revenue stream for the government to finance essential development projects aimed at improving the competitiveness of the rice sector in the Philippines.”

The DA seeks the extension of RCEF until 2030 and some additional changes to the fund’s allocation set to improve efficiency and optimize its impact.

The Rice Fund allocates P10 billion a year, from which a million farmers have benefited since 2019, for the distribution of farm machineries and seeds, among others, with excess tariff collection distributed to farmers as financial assistance.

The Rice Tariffication Law is up for revision to accommodate a few amendments, particularly on initiatives to improve the livelihoods of Filipino farmers.

The President earlier said he would certify as urgent the bill proposing to amend RTL to allow the government control over or influence in the local rice market.

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