The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) today said the government’s continued rice importation policy will be a bane to millions of rice farmers. This assertion came as the Department of Agriculture (DA) pressed the National Food Authority (NFA) to proceed with the immediate importation of 250,000 metric tons (MT) of rice that will serve as the country’s buffer stock in time for the ‘lean months.’ Aside from the 250,000 MT of rice targeted for importation, the NFA said the government buy another 490,800 MT of rice for buffer stock.

“Rice importation is not the solution. It is actually one of the major hindrances to the development of the domestic rice industry,” said Antonio Flores, secretary general of the KMP. The problem lies within the policy of importation, the continued operation of rice cartel syndicates and lacking government support and subsidy to local rice farmers. The previous administration failed to achieve food self-sufficiency despite several target adjustments mainly due to importation,” the peasant leader said.

“Rice is the country’s main staple and a socially-sensitive commodity. The government should take on decisive, political steps to save the rice industry and our rice farmers. The first step is to get out of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture,” Flores said.

“It’s time to end the era of importation and develop the domestic rice industry to ensure food self-sufficiency.”

The NFA is always ready to buy imported rice while rice farmers are forced to sell their harvested palay (unhusked rice) to private traders. Napakaraming imported na bigas sa mga NFA warehouse. Napakaraming palay ng ating mga magsasaka ang naibebenta sa napakababang halaga sa mga trader o halos pinapamigay na. Pagdating sa pamilihan, kontrolado ng kartel ang suplay at presyo ng bigas.”

On June 30, the quantitative restriction (QR) on rice will expire and the government is not keen on seeking for another extension. In 1995, the Philippines was allowed to implement a QR for rice for 10 years. Several extensions prolonged the restriction until the first half of 2017. Under the QR, rice imports within the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) of 805,200 tonnes were charged with an in-quota tariff of 35%, while all imports in excess of the MAV were assessed with a higher 50% tariff.

Rice farmers and sectors will launch actions to oppose massive rice importation before the June 30 lifting of the QR and the July 1 start of the lean months. “We are held hostage by these policies imposed by the WTO-AoA and the government’s importation policy. The first order is to break free from these anti-farmer and anti-people policies. The Philippines is a rice-producing country, and yet we are importing rice for our local consumption while local rice farmers are almost left with nothing after every cropping session,” Flores said