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NFA to import rice only as last recourse – DA

MANILA, Philippines — Allowing the National Food Authority to import rice is a last option for the government, an official of the Department of Agriculture (DA) said yesterday amid opposition from farmers’ groups to return the NFA’s power to source the staple outside the country.

Arnel de Mesa, spokesman for the DA, said the NFA would only be authorized to import rice when necessity arises.

“It will only be allowed (to import rice) as a last recourse. It can also buy rice if there is shortage and during extraordinary events,” De Mesa said.

Groups have opposed the move to allow the NFA to import rice.

Farmers’ group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) chairman Rosendo So said there is no need to give the NFA additional powers.

Rice watchdog group Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estavillo said the government should instead provide more budget to the NFA to buy more palay and sell it to the markets.

But De Mesa said the NFA would only be allowed to import rice upon the recommendation of different committees and approval of the DA secretary.

He gave assurance that there would be adequate safeguards once the NFA is allowed again to import the grains.

“The NFA has no sole authority to do this (importation) without the approval of the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture,” he said.

De Mesa said that under the proposed amendments to the Rice Tariffication Law, the regulatory functions of the NFA would be returned including requiring grain warehouses to register with the agency.

“The NFA will be allowed to inspect warehouses to determine if the volume and quality of rice and palay stored therein are correct,” he said.

The DA also wants to return the function of the NFA on price stabilization and supply regulation.

“Under the proposed amendments, in case extraordinary events occur, and there is a spike in prices and acute shortage in the supply, the NFA can intervene,” De Mesa said.

He said the NFA should be given additional funds of up to 50 percent of its allocation for buffer stocks.

“This could be used to replenish (stocks), use it to intervene in the market,” De Mesa added.

He said aside from its function to procure palay, the NFA should be authorized to