Manila. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has given the go-ahead for the National Food Authority, or NFA, to import 250,000 tons of rice to boost dwindling inventories, a cabinet official said on Friday (09/02).
The Philippines, one of the world's main rice importers which usually buys from top suppliers Vietnam and Thailand, saw domestic prices of the national staple increase by 3-4 percent in late January and they continue to rise, with stockpiles dropping to the lowest in more than two decades.
The NFA, tasked with stabilizing domestic rice prices, has said some private traders have pushed prices higher because of the lack of NFA rice being sold in the market.
"The president has approved the release of the standby volume of rice that will be purchased from outside," cabinet secretary Jun Evasco told Reuters by phone.
Evasco is also chairman of the NFA Council -- a panel made up of economic managers -- that earlier gave standby authority to the NFA to import 250,000 tons of rice.
Members of the council will meet on Monday to decide how the rice will be brought in and are considering methods such as a government-to-government deal or importing the volume from private suppliers, Evasco said.
A government-to-government deal would be the fastest route and the imported rice could arrive in a month, said NFA regional director Rex Estoperez, adding Vietnam and Thailand are likely suppliers.
The NFA's only rice purchase last year was 250,000 tons sourced from Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore, via a tender in July.
Rice stocks at the NFA have dropped to about 60,000 tons currently, just enough for two days of national consumption. That is well below the required 15-day inventory and the lowest since July 1995.
"If we won't import from Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, we will be hungry. That's the problem there," Duterte said at an event at the presidential palace on Wednesday night.
But agriculture secretary Emmanuel Piñol earlier this week said the national rice inventory, including the NFA's, would stand at 3 million tons by end-March, good for 96 days of consumption.
The Philippines produced a record 19.3 million tons of rice last year.
Evasco said the NFA council did not earlier approve the immediate importation proposal by the NFA to protect the interest of local farmers.