MANILA – Our farmers will find it hard to survive in a market that might soon be flooded with cheap rice, said Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on Wednesday as he cautioned against the abolition of the National Food Authority (NFA).
“Our top consideration must be our farmers because they will bear the brunt if NFA is abolished. Opening the importation of rice to the private sector will further reduce their already small income, as it will flood the markets with cheap rice,” Pangilinan said.
In a speech earlier this month, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. reportedly said that his office will recommend to the President the abolition of three agencies, including the NFA. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III later on clarified that they will not abolish the food agency, but instead only remove its regulatory functions.
For Pangilinan, there needs to be two prerequisites before these actions are considered: farm productivity, and the involvement of the private sector.
“We have to ask the question, are our farmers prepared? We have to prepare them for the eventual arrival of cheap rice. We have to improve farm production rates so that they may be able to compete with other players that will soon saturate the market. How are we going to do that? Pour funds into mechanization and provide our farmers with fertilizers. Bringing down the cost of production will not only increase their income, but also raise their competitiveness,” Pangilinan said.
“Priming the private sector is also important so that we may be able to level the playing field in order for rice prices to not fall and be in the control of only a few. Rice is staple food of more than 100 million of our people. Changes in rice prices have the power to determine whether or not a family will go hungry,” he said.
Pangilinan was the Chairman of the NFA Council during his stint as the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization from May 2014 to September 2015.
“During my time at the NFA, for the first time in 43 years, we rejected bid offers from other governments because of high prices. This lowered the bidding prices, resulting in savings for the government amounting to some P7 billion. We were also able to bring down rice inflation. Judicious importation and distribution resulted in a net profit of P1.8 billion by the end of 2014 — a first for the NFA since the 1990s,” Pangilinan said.
“If the functions of the NFA will be performed responsibly and its officials remain prudent, the agency can be a catalyst for achieving its mandate of food security,” he said.
Pangilinan is the current Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, which will be having its organizational meeting and first public hearing tomorrow, September 1, focusing on the Coco Levy Trust Fund Bill.