APALIT -- Senator Cynthia Villar has urged the Aquino administration to stop private groups from importing rice to avoid smuggling.

Villar, chairperson of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said rice smuggling “gravely affects” the farmers and their produce. She disclosed this during the annual fluvial festival here.

Villar said that there would no longer be the illegal importation of rice if the government will buy and keep the rice mostly coming from Vietnam.

She said she had read in a report that the Department of Agriculture (DA) through the National Food Authority will import 250,000 metric tons of rice.

“Í understand that’s a mandatory buffer stocking but I hope someday we will no longer import rice. We must buy and consume our own produce to help our farmers improve their income,” Villar said.

The country buys rice in the early part of the year to prepare for the lean harvest season that begins in July.

The government allows private traders to import rice up to 187,000 tons this year, with tariffs as high as 35 percent under the Minimum access volume of the Omnibus Rice Importation program, reports said.

It added that despite record-high domestic harvests in recent years, including last year’s output, the Philippines remains one of the world’s biggest rice buyers.

The Aquino administration reportedly purchased more than 1.8 million tons from Vietnam and Thailand after Super Typhoon Haiyan destroyed crops in November 2013. It released supplies from state stockpiles for relief operations and to arrest the sharp increase in local retail prices.

The country’s rice purchases in 2014 were the biggest in the last four years.

The United States Department of Agriculture said this year’s imports may hit 1.6 million tons. But the DA said that this year’s imports may be less than 1 million tons as local retail prices have eased from the record highs seen in mid-2014.

Villar said that research and development will help enhance the agriculture sector and the competitiveness of the farmers and farm workers.

She said that even the National Economic Development Authority has acknowledged the need to invest in research and development to increase the productivity of the agriculture sector and boost job creation in the industry through science and technology.

Villar said this will eventually hasten the growth in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector.

"I strongly believe relevant research and development technological innovation can also propel the agricultural sector to greater heights," said Villar. (Joey Pavia/Contributor)