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‘Bigas ng Masa’

By Dr. Ramon Ricardo A. Roque, CESOI, Diplomate

There is no right shortage in the country but there is definitely a shortage of the P27 per kilo National Food Authority (NFA) rice.

What President Rodrigo Duterte and Congress should look into is the failure of the NFA to ensure the sufficiency of the low-priced rice in the market.

It simply does not make sense to attribute the current NFA rice shortage to farmers opting to sell their harvest to rice traders and middlemen. Farmers are entrepreneurs who will of course sell their products to those that will give them the optimum profits.

Rice traders and middlemen cannot be blamed as well for buying rice from farmers at a higher price. Again, these are businessmen who are after higher profits.

Why has there been increases in the prices of the various varieties of commercial rice when supply is sufficient?

The answer is simple. Rice traders anticipated the increase in the demand for commercial rice because of the shortage in NFA rice.

There is also no rice hoarding if we talk of commercial rice because its supply in the market is more than sufficient than the demand for it.

The intervention of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to offer the “Bigas ng Masa” is commendable but it does not fully address the NFA rice shortage – the shortage in the supply of P27 per kilo rice that the “masa” needs.

The “Bigas ng Masa” is a cheaper alternative to the commercial rice. It can decrease the supply and demand for commercial rice sold by rice traders and thus force down their prices. However, what will DA do when the price of commercial rice from traders go down to the R38 per kilo price of “Bigas ng Masa,” or even lower than that?

At the moment, the farmers who participate in the “Bigas ng Masa” project of DA are the obvious winners because they end up with profits higher than what they will earn if they sell their harvest to rice traders and middlemen.

How about the “masa” who cannot really afford even the R38 per kilo “Bigas ng Masa”? The 11-peso difference between the prices of NFA rice and the “Bigas ng Masa remains to be a big problem for those who barely have enough to spend for basic necessities.

We go back to the failure of NFA to perform its mandate – make available rice that the “masa” can afford. While NFA already commenced the importation of some 250,000 metric tons of rice, its officials still need to explain why they failed to ensure the continued availability of the real “Bigas ng Masa” in the market.