PH eyes rice imports from India, Pakistan

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As countries continue to close borders to protect themselves from the new coronavirus pandemic, the government said it would work with the country’s Asean trading partners to ensure the stable flow of exports.

In a bulletin released by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases on Friday, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said they would be heeding the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) recommendation to work with the Asean to refrain from any imposition of trade-restrictive measures.

This followed Vietnam’s announcement that it would suspend its exportation of rice.

The initiative would also include the Departments of Finance and the Department of Trade and Industry.

If necessary, IATF said it would also tap the state-owned Philippine International Trading Corp. to import 300,000 metric tons (MT) of rice via a government-to-government scheme with non-Asean countries such as India and Pakistan.

This is to avoid any shortfall of the staple, although the DA has assured the consuming public that the country has enough rice inventory for four months.

As of March, data from the Bureau of Plant Industry showed that there were about 492,000 MT of rice that arrived in the country, 409,000 MT of which came from Vietnam.

The latest volume of imports only covered 44 percent of the country’s annual average rice shortfall at 1.1 million MT.

Several farmer organizations have reiterated calls to the government to prioritize the country’s food self-reliance following Vietnam’s announcement, where the Philippines sources most of its rice imports.

“We call on the government to raise NFA’s (National Food Authority) buffer stocking to 30 days as part of the COVID-19 response and in preparation for the usual rainy monsoon months,” the National Rural Women Coalition said. “Boosting government’s inventory to 30 days would require NFA to procure more than 800,000 MT of palay and require a budget of P18 billion, including logistics and handling costs.”

After President Duterte put the country under a state of calamity, palay prices have picked up following a series of decline that began last year as the country is forced to rely on its own production.

In response, the DA has requested an additional P32 billion from the Office of the President, which also includes an additional budget of P7 billion to elevate NFA’s procurement operations.

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura said it continued to receive reports of farmers who were barred to tend to their farms as local government units (LGUs) insisted on their own quarantine protocols. It has called on the government to address such issues.

The group added that the country’s food producers must be considered as front-liners too, as they relentlessly toil to provide agricultural commodities despite the presence of the pandemic in the country.

The IATF has consistently reiterated to LGUs to allow agricultural workers to continue their operations despite the monthlong quarantine, but the directive seems to be falling on deaf ears.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said they would begin to issue show-cause orders against LGUs that would continue to disobey the order. INQ

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