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Philippines - Farmers, traders hit rice importation
TODAY Correspondent, January 5, 2004
KORONADAL CITY - Rice farmers and industry leaders in South Cotabato province Monday objected to the National Food Authority’s recommendation to import 600,000 metric tons of rice this year.

They appealed to President Arroyo to disapprove the proposal, saying this would be highly disadvantageous to the farmers.

Farmer leader Rudy Dayot said the importation of some 12 million bags of rice would especially affect farmers in the rice-producing regions like Central Mindanao.

“Instead of helping the local farmers, the government would be killing us. The huge rice importation will ultimately reduce the farm-gate buying prices of palay. We hope President Arroyo will shoot down the proposal,” Dayot told reporters here.

He described the rice importation as a form of economic sabotage to the farmers.

At present, Dayot said, they enjoy high farm-gate buying price. Farmers fear this would end if the government starts importing rice in March.

“Traders buy our wet palay at P8.50 a kilo. This would surely go down to P6.50 or P7 if the massive rice importation pushes through,” Dayot stressed.

NFA administrator Arthur Yap earlier said the agency was eyeing the importation of rice from traditional suppliers like China and Vietnam.

Besides the 600,000 MT the NFA plans to import, about 345,000 MT was allowed to be imported under the NFA’s Farmers as Importers (FAI) program, reports said.

Dayot suggested that the government buy the palay produce of local farmers for the country’s rice needs, adding that local farmers can fill up the rice buffer stock of the NFA.

According to Daraug, palay harvest has just started to peak in the provinces of South and North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

Daraug and Dayot said they are open to rice importation only if this would not flood the commercial market distributed only in calamity-stricken areas.

“If there’s an abundance of cheap imported rice, rice traders would have no other recourse but to buy local palay produce at a lower price. Basically, importation is a punishment to local farmers,” Daraug stressed.

Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. said the 600,000 MT rice import eyed by the government for the year is lower than last year’s total.

“We do not need to import a higher volume than what was previously projected because we are looking at a good harvest in the wet- crop season,” he has reportedly said.

Last year the Philippines imported 934,000 MT of the staple, including the 229,000 MT purchased by farmers, allowed for the first time under the FAI program.

NFA assistant administrator Jesus Navarro said they want the rice imports to come in by March “so the agency can have enough time to distribute these in rice-deficient provinces before the lean months from July to September.”

Navarro said the imports would serve as buffer stock and fill the projected rice-supply shortfall of close to one million MT this year.

Daraug, however, claimed that the imported rice “would be used by politicians to enhance their bids in the coming elections.”
MGR Archive 6.1.2004
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