THE National Food Authority (NFA) 7 has assured that it has a buffer stock of rice in the region to support the public in case of calamities or during natural and man-made disasters.
NFA 7 Director Maria Fe Evasco said they have 80,000 metric tons of rice, adding that they expect more deliveries from local sources amid threats of the looming El Niño phenomenon and typhoons that usually strike Central Visayas in the last quarter of the year.
“We assure the public that we have sufficient supply. In fact there are deliveries coming,” she told SunStar Cebu on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023.
A ton of rice is equivalent to 20 bags of rice. Each bag weighs 50 kilograms.
According to Evasco, after Republic Act (RA) 11203, also known as the Rice Tariffication Law, went into effect in 2019, it stripped down some of the agency’s responsibilities and mandated them to concentrate on keeping a buffer stock large enough to respond to emergencies.
She said that under the law, they are required to source out palay or unmilled rice from local farmers.
Evasco said RA 11203 also clipped their power to regulate, stabilize, and intervene in the market through their retailers. The law also removed their ability to import rice as their sole responsibility is to preserve an emergency supply of homegrown rice.
Evasco said that from time to time they replenish the NFA’s buffer stock, meaning they constantly receive deliveries from suppliers, which is why she is confident the supply they have right now will suffice.
She said they only consider it alarming when buffer stock level reaches 1,000 metric tons.
According to her, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) buys rice from them and for their family food packs, receiving the largest cut of buffer stock.
She did not specify how much the social welfare agency usually receives because it depends on the number the latter requests.
Aside from DSWD, their other clients are the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, and local government units (LGUs).
However, Velasco said LGUs can only purchase NFA rice during a state of calamity and emergency.
Evasco said they buy rice from local farmers and do not import rice, as this is one of the mandates of the Rice Tariffication Law.
Through the Palay Procurement Program, the NFA directly purchases palay from both individual farmers and farmer organizations or cooperatives at a predetermined support price.
According to the regional director, this guarantees farmers have a quick market for their produce at a price that will ensure they make a reasonable income.
“That means that the Palay Procurement Program buys palay directly from our local farmers. So, overall in the Philippines that is what NFA is doing,” she said.
Evasco said the NFA’s palay support price is pegged at P19 per kilo for clean and dry palay. The palay is then milled in Bohol.
She said they buy rice from farmers in Bohol and Negros Oriental and not from farmers in Cebu since Cebu is not a rice-producing province.
Based on a 2018 study published by the Philippine Social Science Council, rice production is not suitable in Cebu because of the type of its soil as well as the lack of irrigation in agricultural areas in the province.
The study said Cebu produces more corn than rice, which is why it is the top producer of corn in Central Visayas.
However, the NFA 7’s main source of supply comes from the Calabarzon and Mimaropa regions in Luzon.
Evasco said that before the Rice Tariffication Law, the NFA Cebu office also had the option to import rice from countries like Vietnam, Thailand, India, Pakistan and China since it has an international port.
Evasco also brushed aside the long-standing misconception about NFA rice being weevil-infested.
She said the quality of locally sourced NFA rice is good and it can compete with the quality of well-milled varieties of rice that are being sold commercially in the markets.
“It is what we are eating. That is why we are healthy. That thing is a preconceived notion of some saying ‘NFA rice is bad, it is only edible for dogs’ but no, that is not true,” she said.
Evasco said that during the aftermath of Typhoon Odette, which struck the region in December 2021, the NFA 7 disposed of a total of 100,000 bags of rice.