NFA told to spare Region 12 from rice importation

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/25 April) — With Region 12’s rice surplus reaching around 132,000 metric tons (MT) last year, the Regional Development Council (RDC) has urged the National Food Authority (NFA) to exclude the area from its rice importation program this year.

In a resolution, the council specifically asked the NFA’s Rice and Corn Council to review its rice importation process and set appropriate measures that would protect areas with sufficient rice production from the entry of imported rice products.

Mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio, RDC-12 chairperson, said the move was an offshoot of the reported entry in the local markets last October of around 3,000 MT tons of imported rice from Vietnam through the Makar Port here.

She noted that the stocks of cheaper imported rice products that were monitored to have entered the markets in some parts of the region late last year have affected the prices and distribution of locally-produced rice.

In February, the provincial government of South Cotabato created a special task force to check the entry in its markets of the imported rice products, which it suspected as smuggled or had entered the area through questionable means.

RDC records showed that its economic development committee initially tackled in late December the entry of the imported Vietnam rice with officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) Region 12, NFA Region 11, the Bureau of Customs (BoC) here and the city government.

During the meeting, DA-12 officials disclosed that it had referred the matter to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala through a letter dated November 8, 2012.

DA-12’s letter to Alcala specifically sought clarification on the “entry of the large volume of imported rice that was unloaded in the region.”

Alcala referred the matter to NFA acting Administrator Ludovico Jarina, “who confirmed that NFA issued import permits to two Multi-Purpose Cooperative consignees from Capiz, totaling 2,880 MT of Vietnam white rice, under the Minimum Access Volume rice importation program.”

The consignees were the Agraca Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative and Sta. Cruz Consolacion Irrigators Multi-Purpose Cooperative, which are both based in Barangay San Rafael, Dumalag town in Capiz.

Pendatun Alim, BoC port collector here, confirmed in a letter dated January 25, 2013 that the imported rice stocks were released to the consignees based on “legal importation permits issued by the NFA.”

Custodio said she had personally sought clarification from Alcala regarding the necessity of rice importation.

She recommended that the NFA should refrain from further issuing importation permits “especially when the port of discharge is General Santos City since Region 12 is self-sufficient in rice.”

“This is also to protect our farmers from unscrupulous rice traders,” the mayor said.

Custodio pointed out that the region currently ranks fifth in the entire country in terms of rice production and had recorded a total surplus of 132,354 MT in 2012.

Region 12, also called the Soccsksargen Region, comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and North Cotabato and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

The mayor said the NFA should only issue rice importation permits based on rice production levels, sufficiency, marketing, distribution, and socio-political acceptability, among others.

She said it should identify the port where the imported rice will be unloaded as well as their final destination.

“The port should be located in net importing regions and, thus, should exclude any port of entry in Region 12,” Custodio added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)