Imee: Rescue Local Rice Farmers Struggling With Imports

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Senator Imee Marcos has urged the government to put off rice importation until after the peak of the wet season harvest in October, so that farmers can recover from farmgate prices being kept low by rice traders.

Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, warned that farmgate prices of palay may again plunge from the present 12 to 15 pesos per kilo to seven to eight pesos, as it did last year when rice imports caused an oversupply and dragged down prices.

“Importation does not mean the end of all regulation,” Marcos said.

“Scheduling importation is one way of helping our local rice farmers while the rice tariffication law remains in place,” Marcos explained.

Marcos also urged the Bureau of Customs to “go a step further” after it exposed rice traders who misdeclared and undervalued their imports last year by more than Php1 billion.

“Beyond collecting deficient payments on import duties and taxes, cancel the permits of this brazen cartel of importers and reshuffle or remove Customs officials who allowed this to happen,” Marcos said.

Marcos added that tariff collections must be protected to augment the Department of Agriculture’s budget which faces a deep cut for next year, limiting the ability to procure more rice from local farmers and provide them more drying machines, tube wells, higher-yielding hybrid seeds and fertilizer.

Local rice farmers remain on edge, as neighboring countries resume exports after a brief lull during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, Marcos said.

“Our food security should not depend on imports, though they lower prices for the consumer. We must support our own rice supply chain,” Marcos said, emphasizing that local farmers are capable of providing 93% of national supply and that only 7% needs to be imported.

At present farmgate prices, rice farmers in Nueva Ecija, Isabela, and Bicol who pegged their production cost at about 12 pesos per kilo are just about breaking even, with some of them already having reaped about 30% of their crop this September.

Marcos said that the lack of drying machines and storage facilities were forcing them to sell palay at depressed farmgate prices to rice traders instead of the National Food Authority, which requires a maximum moisture content of 14% to buy rice at 19 pesos per kilo.

Rice farmers also risk confiscation when drying their palay along local roads, which is prohibited and could further diminish what profit they could make while competing with rice imports, Marcos added.