Members of the National Movement for Food Sovereingty (NMFS) express their concerns regarding NFA’s palay procurement scheme on a dialogue with NFA Region 3 Regional Director Piolito Santos.

The National Movement for Food Sovereignty (NMFS) gathered members of farmers organization and peasant sectors for a mobilization last November 18, in front of the National Food Authority (NFA) Central Luzon Regional Office, as part of an ongoing nationwide protest against the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL). The group wanted to express their dismay on the termination of process of studying the imposition of safeguard duties on imported rice, the over excessive rice imports in the country, and the continuous plummeting of palay farmgate prices. They call for the immediate repeal of the Rice Tariffication Law to protect the livelihoods of 2.4 million rice farmers in the country.

As it is still harvest time, palay prices have already dived down to as low as P7/kg in some parts of Central Luzon, according to reports of members of NMFS. The group has demanded before on a separate statement that rice importation should be halted immediately and that the implementation of the RTL be suspended while palay harvests are on-going. However, the Department of Finance (DOF) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) stated last week that “there is no inclination to repeal, revise, or suspend” the RTL. According to them, the current situation of the rice industry is just “short-term transition challenges” and that the law should be given a chance to be implemented properly.
Manuel Rosario, Chairperson of Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan (PKSK) and co-convenor of NMFS expressed his deep concern regarding the DOF and DA’s statement. “Sa ngayon pa lang, hirap na hirap na ang mga magsasaka dahil sa sobrang pagbaba ng presyo ng palay. Kung maghihintay pa tayo ng mas matagal pang panahon para dyan sa sinasabi nila na bigyan ng pagkakataon yung batas, ay paano na ang mga magsasaka? Baka wala na halos magsaka sa susunod na dalawang taon na yan dahil luging-lugi na sila. Hindi naman agad-agad makapagbigay ng sapat na suporta ang pamahalaan.”(Recently, rice farmers have been having a hard time due to the drastic lowering of palay prices. If we would have to wait longer in order to give the law a chance, what would happen to our farmers? What if in that next 2 years of waiting, there will be barely any farmers who continue farming because they will only incur losses? The government can’t even give immediate and proper support to the farmers.) Mr. Rosario also stressed the importance of revisiting the law as soon as possible. According to him, now that the safeguard measures has not been put in place and that the Philippines is now the number 1 rice imported in the world, it is high time that the law should be reviewed, suspended, and eventually repealed. He suggests that the RTL be replaced with a better piece of legislation that actually focuses on the strengthening the state support for the rice industry and reinforcing intervention in the rice trade and palay procurement.
Trinidad Domingo, chairman of Katipunan ng Bagong Pilipina (KABAPA) and co-convenor of the NMFS also lamented the National Food Authority’s (NFA) palay procurement. She argued that the NFA should be provided with more warehouses and dryers. According to her, NFA warehouses in Central Luzon cannot accommodate all of the farmers trying to sell their palay. This leaves farmers no choice but to sell their produce to rice traders at a lower price. NFA buys dried palay at P19/kg, while traders buy them for as low as P10-12/kg. Moreover, the NFA cannot accept wet palay as they do not have enough dryers to dry all of the wet palay brought to them for sale. This also leaves farmers the option to sell at as low as P7-12/kg to traders. She also stressed that additional budget to the NFA must be provided for the palay procurement for the agency to be able to buy more palay and to bring back the P20/kg price support. The government should have increased palay procurement capacity of NFA in order for the agency to absorb at the minimum 10% of the country’s palay production.
During the mobilization, the NMFS had a dialogue with NFA Central Luzon Regional Director Piolito Santos regarding their concerns in the agency’s palay procurement scheme. According to Dir. Santos, from January to present, the NFA Central Luzon has procured only 5-6% of the total rice production from the region. Despite opening more buying stations and warehouses, they still do not have enough capacity to buy more palay. They also do not have enough drying facility for them to buy wet palay. “We still need more warehouses and dryers. The production is too high for us to accommodate. But we try our best to buy more palay. Even though we have already achieved our procurement target, we still buy more.” Santos said. He also expressed that since the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) allocates 5 billion pesos into machineries, maybe the PhilMech should provide more drying facilities.” The only thing we can do now is ensure that the remaining palay in our storage facilities get milled before March next year, so that we can dispense the rice already, and then we’ll have more storage spaces in our warehouses. We are also open to working with more cooperatives and farmers associations whose members want to sell their palay to us.” he added.
The NMFS expressed the fears of small rice farmers in the country that the law will lead to early bankruptcy of rice farmers and the demise of the rice industry. They warn that if no drastic measure is done immediately to save rice farmers from bankruptcy, the country will witness massive conversion of rice farms, which can seriously endanger the country’s long-term food security. NMFS thus calls for the repeal of the Rice Tariffication Law and the immediate halt to rice importation now that the country has imported an excessive amount of rice.