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Greater coordination sought on rice problem


FOR a while, there were calls for the abolition of the National Food Authority (NFA) over its alleged failure to keep rice supplies and prices steady for the poorer sector of the country. Some senators and the Foundation for Economic Re­form blamed the NFA for the nationwide rice crisis, particularly in Zamboanga City.

The NFA had been charged with rumor-mongering that caused prices to rise when it warned that its rice reserves were down and called on the NFA Council to immedi­ately order new importations. It is the 18-member council that has the authority to order such importations. In this role, it has served as a watchdog against corruption in rice procurement and smuggling.

In the face of the fast-rising prices, President Duterte authorized immediate im­portations that should stabilize market prices. Secretary of Agriculture Emmanuel Piñol said the President has abolished the NFA Council and transferred the NFA back to the Department of Agriculture. But presidential spokesman Harry Roque disputes the abolition claim.

It is hoped that the presidential order for immediate importations will stop the increases in rice prices which are due to shortages in some parts of the country and manipulations by some traders. In an interview last weekend, Secretary Piñol pointed out that a big part of the problem is the lack of coordination among various government agencies, leading to uncertainty and inaction.

This lack of coordination is due in part to a decision of the previous administration to detach the NFA, the National Irrigation Authority, the Fertilizer and Pesticide Au­thority, and the Philippine Coconut Authority from the Department of Agriculture in 2014. These four DA agencies were made part of a new Cabinet-level Office of the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization.

It was an unwise and bad management decision to break up the DA and assign these four major agencies to another Cabinet member. It resulted in loss of coor­dination in agricultural growth and development – and in determining the proper timing and amounts of needed rice importations. This decision should be made only after an assessment of national rice production by our farmers, Secretary Piñol said.

Recent decisions and developments should result in greater coordination among these related agencies of the government, the secretary said. Calls for abolition of agencies will not solve the continuing rice problem. Greater coordination and coop­eration will help a great deal, he said.