Groups oppose rice imports by private sector


By Kimberly Go
Solar News

Feb. 7, 2014


Some farmer groups and agriculture watchdogs are demanding that the government revoke its decision to allow private businessmen to import rice.

They say the move makes no sense in light of increasing reports of rice smuggling, reiterating that the National Food Authority (NFA) should be the sole importer of the country's staple.

Ernesto Ordoñez, who heads Alyansa Agrikultura, says the smuggling has been happening time and again, and the anger of the farmers is rising to fever pitch.

The NFA announced this week that private importers may now secure permits from the agency to import as much as 163,000 metric tons of rice from Thailand, India, China and Australia.

The groups say allowing private traders to import rice will only result in graft and corruption.

Jaime Tadeo, Spokesman of the National Rice Farmer's Council and Trinidad Domingo of the  National Rural Women's Congress added that imported rice competes with local produce in the market.

Agriculture officials meanwhile say they will study the groups' demands, while clarifying that there is an executive order that allows private participation in rice imports.

So, for now the decision stays, although Rex Estoperez, NFA Spokesman, acknowledged that there is now stricter policy in the accreditation process for imports.

The group Rice Watch and Action Network says the government would do well to shift the focus from importing rice to supporting farmers to increase local supply.

The Agriculture Department told Congress this week that it is looking into lowering farmers' production costs.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala says he hopes boosting farmers' productivity will eventually put an end to rice smuggling.

But the farmers say they've heard that from the government before.

The group says the government should subsidize rice farmers' production costs, the way it is done in many competitive rice-producing countries.







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