Traders, middlemen creating fake rice shortage to hike prices – Agriculture Chief

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 14) - The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Wednesday launched the "Bigas ng Masa" program to correct what it calls the "age-old" anomaly of controlling the food supply chain.

Commercial rice was sold for only P38 per kilo during the program. Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said it will mark the start of a nationwide program which would directly connect rice farmers with consumers.

After the program, Piñol hit groups that are making it look like there is a rice shortage in the country.

He said DA, International Rice Research Institute, and the Philippine Rice Research Institute checked the country's rice production. All 3 agencies agreed the country is 96 percent sufficient in rice.

Piñol added rice supply is "above and beyond" the national requirement.

"The production of the Philippines in 2017 was placed at 19.4 million metric tons. In the history of rice industry in the country, this was the highest production," he said.

He noted the estimated buffer stock for the first quarter of 2018 is good for 96 days - the "highest in recent years."

Piñol pointed the problem of the alleged rice shortage to rice traders and middlemen.

"The food supply chain from the farm to the market has always been controlled by traders and middlemen," he said.

He said this is why they came up with the "Bigas ng Masa" program.

"We believe that unless we correct this age-old anomaly of traders and middlemen controlling the food supply chain - from the farm to the market - the consumers will never be able to feel any changes in the degree and level of production of farmers," he said.

NFA rice shortage?

Piñol said the National Food Authority has "good intentions," but when it comes to allocations in specific regions, there are instances where the cheaper NFA rice is being sold to "favored wholesalers."

Agriculture Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan revealed the NFA Council has issued a resolution to audit the agency's acquisition and distribution of rice.

"Hindi po sya question of doubt. Hindi rin sya dahil may iregularidad na ginagawa ang NFA. Ito ay normal na process na ginagawa sa isang government agency o office," Cayanan said.

In a statement, NFA welcomed the audit and the chance to clarify issues on distribution.

"The NFA management welcomes the audit para malinawan din issues as to our distribution. Iba-iba ang distribution levels sa provinces and island municipalities kasi iba-iba naman ang daily consumption requirement and some are palay procuring, some are not. Also meron provinces na mataas ang poverty incidence, like NCR, so malaki ang distribution, etc," NFA Administrator Jason Aquino said.