Runaway local rice price increases stun policy makers

The decline of the supply of palay in Palawan due to low harvest has also contributed to the increase in the local price of commodities, (File photo)

The skyrocketing prices of rice in Palawan markets are out of anyone’s control, and the best hope for rice prices to go down is when more supply becomes locally available in September when the harvest season in the province’s main producing areas is expected to begin.

This was the emerging consensus among key local industry players during discussions held Monday at the City Council.

The National Food Authority (NFA), the agency mandated to release lower-priced rice in the market during critical times in order to influence the prices of commercial rice, admits it has no capacity to perform such task because of its limited stocks.

Maria Lewina Tolentino, provincial manager of NFA said that the supply of rice in their warehouse cannot influence the price of commercial rice.

“Wala syang kakayahan sa market to influence the price,” Tolentino said.

There are 20,000 bags of rice allocated for Palawan mainland while 20,000 bags is for Coron and nearby island towns. Tolentino said that of the 20,000 bags only 14,000 is for distribution since 6,000 bags will be set aside for emergency response during calamities.

Since last week, the NFA made available 40 bags of rice daily for the old and new market in Puerto Princesa City. Tolentino said they have 32 accredited retailers, and that they have devised a scheme to make sure that NFA rice is sold to consumers.

Low local harvest

The decline of the supply of palay in Palawan due to low harvest has also contributed to the increase in the local price of commodities, according to the players.

Philip Sanchez, rice trader and miller based in Narra town, told City councilors the scarcity of supply of palay for milling in the province prompted him to import from Metro Manila.

He said he currently imports 10,000 bags of rice weekly, buying it from a supplier at P2,200 per bag. This supply is passed on to retailers at P50 per kilo, who in turn mark it up for profit.

“Nag-aangkat tayo ng bigas sa Manila, kasi mahina ang anihan. Dahil kulang ang palay mataas bilihan ngayon nasa P23 na, pero pag September bababa na yan, kasi tag -ani na. Ngayon kapos talaga,” he said.

Irene Lobaton, Grains Retailer Association at the old market said they find it difficult to source their supply of rice, thus the price increase.

“Sa ngayon ay wala nang mabili sa Narra. Nasalanta kasi ang southern part ng Palawan nitong January kaya kaunti lang ang na- produce. Umaangkat na ng bigas ang mga millers,” she said.

She said that the government should consider limiting the shipment of rice to other provinces, which was imposed during the incumbency of former Governor Salvador Socrates.

“Ngayon ay walang batas na sumasaklaw para sa food security. Dapat meron din tayong limitasyon sa paglalabas ng bigas sa Palawan para matutulungan tayo sa supply during lean seasons. Dati kasi ay kontrolado ang pagpapalabas ng bigas” she said.

Milagros Cacal, superintendent of Palawan Agricultural Experimentation Service (PAES) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) also proposed for a regulation on the exportation of Palawan-produced rice to other provinces as a measure to control local price increases.

She noted that in June 2018 based on their records some 30,000 bags of rice was shipped outside Palawan.

Meanwhile, Tolentino said they have not procured palay for two croppings already because farmers preferred to sell it to traders at a higher buying price.

Councilor Modesto Rodriguez II said the reduction of the government’s subsidy to farming forced farmers to avail of funds from rice traders and compromise their produce.

“Binabawasan ang subsidy kaya si farmer ay kay trader kumukuha (ng pera)” he said.

Sanchez said that he himself financed rice farmers at P25 thousand per hectare.

Norman Decampong, chief of National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), ruled out hoarding as a trigger for the price increases, stating there is no rice hoarding in Palawan.

Councilor Nesario Awat urged the NFA should find ways to control the increase in the price of rice in the market.

“Dapat ang pag-neutralize ng private businessmen pag aralan ng mabuti ng NFA,” he said.

Councilor Peter Maristela requested the NFA to double its daily allocation for the old and new markets from only 20 bags each day  to 40 bags.

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