By Janina C. Lim
THE National Food Authority (NFA) has proposed to import 350,000 metric tons of rice before 2018’s first harvest in order to beef up government stocks, an official of the state grains agency said yesterday.
“‘Yung import volume, nag-request kami ng 350,000 (MT) which is under consideration ngayon sa… food security committee” that checks domestic grains stock levels, NFA Grains Marketing Operations Division Director Rocky L. Valdez said, adding that the agency submitted the recommendation to the NFA Council on Nov. 22.
The council’s membership includes Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Nestor A. Espenilla, Jr.; Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III; Trade and Industry Sec. Ramon M. Lopez; Socioeconomic Planning Sec. Ernesto M. Pernia and Executive Sec. Salvador C. Medialdea, among others. Alternate members include BSP Deputy Gov. Diwa C. Guinigundo, National Treasurer Rosalia V. de Leon, Trade and Industry Undersecretary Teodoro C. Pascua as well as National Economic and Development Authority Assistant Sec. Mercedita A. Sombilla.
“Hopefully, by next week, meron na silang evaluation to import or not to import,” Mr. Valdez said in a telephone interview.
“Kung papayagan (If approved, the shipments will arrive) January to February; bago anihan ipaparating namin ito (before the harvest). At kahit dumating naman ng harvest, di naman namin ilalabas ito sa market. Naka-standby lang ang mga ito ng lean months sa (And even if shipments arrive amid harvest, we will not release them in the market. They will be on standby for the lean months of ) May, June, July, August,” he added.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported on Nov. 21 that it expects unmilled rice output to increase by 2.58% year-on-year to 4.533 million MT in 2018’s first quarter.
Mr. Valdez said that current inventory at the NFA “has thinned,” sufficient for just six days — well below requirements. This is expected to decline further to three- to four-day levels by the end of the year.
The NFA is required to maintain a buffer stock good for at least 15 days at any time and keep its inventory levels sufficient for 30 days during the lean periods that peak in the third quarter.
The 350,000 MT volume requested is expected to add 11 days to government stocks.
The national rice inventory, however — including stocks in households and commercial warehouses — is good for 61 days, according to Mr. Valdez.
For this final quarter alone, the PSA expects palay production to increase by 6.26% annually to 7.45 million MT, as yield improvement offsets a contraction of harvest area.
That, plus the arrival between Dec. 20 and Feb. 28 next year of about 805,200 MT that was bought by private-sector traders, should help buoy the country’s rice buffers.
Last year, government approved the importation of 500,000 MT but brought in just half of that volume.