Extra rice, anyone?

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The prices of rice increased for the 24th straight week on the third week of June, with the average for the well-milled variety pegged at P41.46 per kilogram, according to data released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

That average is 0.22 percent higher than prices seen on the second week of June and 6.86 percent higher from the previous year’s price of P38.80 per kilo during the same period.

“Faster rates of price increases are noted at wholesale and retail trades of well-milled rice,” the PSA said, which adding farmgate price of palay averaged P21.36/kg., up by 0.56 percent from the previous week’s P21.24/kg.

But the entry of 172,000 metric tons of imported rice last June 28 through a government-to-government tender by the National Food Authority (NFA) should result in rice prices dropping soon with more NFA rice being available on retail from P27 to P32 per kilo.

Clearly, the challenge for government is to fast-track the delivery of the imported rice to all four corners of the archipelago. Of the 172,000 metric tons, 132,000 MT are still at ports while 37,444 MT are now at designated NFA warehouses.

The sooner the 172,000 MT of rice are offloaded and sent off from the NFA warehouses the better. That is if the government is to stop the price increases brought about by a depressed supply of the staple grain on the market.

In all, the total tender is for 250,000 metric tons with the remainder still to be shipped to our shores.

That’s just for the short term, though, because to really bring down the prices of rice in the country, a number of things must happen.

First, we must achieve 100 percent rice supply sufficiency either by allocating more farmlands or increasing yield per hectare through an aggressive, government-aided program.

During the 70s, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Banos, Laguna served as the center of all scientific studies regarding increasing rice yield.

Our Southeast Asian neighbors like Thailand are now net exporters of rice, largely because they sent people to IRRI during the Masagana 99 days of the Marcoses to extract every available knowledge on increasing palay yield resistant to pests and drought.

We’ve been the leader in rice research before and there’s no reason why our farmers, with the government providing the seedling, fertilizer and other subsidies, could not replicate past rice production successes.

Second, the cost of harvesting and milling rice, as well as its storage and transport must be brought down with government and private sector support.

Third, government must step in to stop the unconscionable profiteering of some rice traders who buy palay at nearly below cost of production and then laugh all the way to the bank with huge profit spreads.

Here we just have to compare the farmgate price of palay at P21.36/kg. and the retail price of P41.46/kg. of rice to know some middlemen are making a killing at the expense of farmers and rice consumers, all 106 million of us Filipinos.

If NFA rice can retail at P27 per kilo, why can’t we slash down the profit of the middlemen? Farmgate prices should be raised though, because we must encourage more Filipinos to farm by making it profitable for them and not just the middlemen.

As it is, the average age of Filipino farmers is 57 years old and many of their children, according to government surveys, are not inclined to follow their footsteps.

With the aforementioned rice scenario, would you care for an extra serving of rice?