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Rice prices must be kept steady

AMID reports of rising prices of consumer goods, rising fuel costs, moves to increase water rates, proposals to raise light rail transit fares, and a record low peso value of P53 to the US dollar, one bright item for consumers stood out in this week’s reports – a drop in the price of rice, the national staple.

Rice imported by the National Food Authority arrived last week and was unloaded at Subic Port. Another shipment arrived at the Cebu International Port for distribution in Central Visayas. Other shipments arrived at the Surigao port for Mindanao. With the impending availability of the imported stocks, NFA rice prices are expected to drop to P27 to P32 per kilo. This in turn should cause the prices of commercial rice stocks to fall to P36 to P38 per kilo.

Rice is one commodity whose price the government cannot allow to rise beyond the capacity of the country’s poorest sectors. This is why, despite the Department of Agriculture’s assurances that the country’s farmers can now provide most of what the nation needs, we continue to purchase hundreds of thousands of tons of cheap rice from Vietnam and Thailand.

When NFA stocks fell some weeks ago, with cavans of rice down to a few levels on the bodega floors, the prices of all kinds of rice started rising in the country’s markets. President Duterte immediately ordered new importations. These are the ones which have now arrived in Subic, Cebu, and Surigao. Photos of rice cavans rising all the way to the ceiling have appeared in the country’s newspapers and the reassuring sight has eased the nation’s fears of shortage and sent prices down.

The cheap imported rice, with 15 to 25 percent broken grains, assure the poorer families that they will continue to have an adequate supply for their needs. Most of the nation will be consuming the rice produced by our own farmers.

This local production has been steadily on the rise over the years, with the increasing use of high-yielding varieties, the increasing areas now having free irrigation, rising farm mechanization, and the rising number of famers’ cooperatives and other associations benefiting from the economies of scale.

Secretary of Agriculture Emmanuel Piñol has said the Philippines should reach the goal of self-sufficiency by 2020 under a program that includes over a million hectares of hybrid rice, installment of small irrigation systems, the use of solar power for irrigation nationwide, and added financing for farmers.

President Duterte says that anytime rice prices rise too much for the poorer folk, they must be brought down with rice importations, such as what was done these last few weeks. But the ultimate goal remains – that one day we will not need to import from Vietnam or Thailand because our own farmers will be producing enough for our people’s needs.