Cartel behind high rice prices in Region 12?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 17 July) – Agriculture officials in Region 12 are eyeing possible price manipulation by alleged rice cartels as behind the drastic increases in commercial rice prices in parts of the region in the last two weeks that already breached the P40 level a kilo.

Amalia Jayag-Datukan, Department of Agriculture (DA) Region 12 executive director, said Wednesday the region’s palay harvests have remained sufficient in the past several months and there is no reason for local rice traders to hike up the prices of commercial rice at the current “excessive levels.”

She was referring to the P3 to P5 increases in the prices of various commercial rice products, especially of the premium varieties, in local markets within Southwestern Mindanao.

“It appears that some cartels are manipulating our rice prices and we’re now investigating this. It started in some key markets and eventually affected us here in Region 12,” she said in an interview over TV Patrol Socsksargen.

In this city, the prices of premium commercial rice products went up to as high as P43 a kilo this week from P37 a week ago.

Local retailers are selling the Indian rice variety at P43 a kilo, chiquita and banay-banay at P42, seven tonner at P41 and C-4 at P40.

In South Cotabato and other neighboring areas, premium rice prices are now sold at P38 to P40 a kilo based on a monitoring conducted by DA-12’s price monitoring section.

Bai Dido Samama, agribusiness and marketing assistance division chief, said they are currently investigating the increases in commercial rice prices in the region as it appeared to have been caused by an “artificial rice shortage.”

She acknowledged that the months of June to August are traditional lean months in terms of palay harvests and price increases are expected but noted that the latest adjustments were “quite high.”

“Some rice traders might have been hoarding rice supplies to create an artificial shortage,” she said.

Aside from this, she said the prices and availability of commercial rice prices in the area might have been also affected by commodity flow or the movement of locally-produced rice supplies to other regions.

Samama said they initially referred the matter to the National Food Authority (NFA) and the latter affirmed that the region’s current rice inventory remained at sufficient level.

Region 12, which produces an average of 3.67 metric tons (MT) of palay per hectare, posted a total yield of 402,514 MT in the first quarter of the year, according to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics.

Some 341,890 MT were produced by the region’s irrigated palay areas and 60,624 MT by the rainfed areas.

In 2012, BAS noted that Region 12’s total palay output reached 1.27 million MT or a rice sufficiency rating of 128 percent.

The region ranks fifth among the country’s 17 regions in terms of palay yield and accounts for about 7 percent of the national harvest of 18.03 million MT.

Region 12 has remained as Mindanao’s rice granary, producing about one-third of the island’s total palay production that reached 3.98 million MT last year.

NFA Region 12 has already intensified its rice distribution or market injection activities in various markets in the region to help offset the impact of the increasing commercial rice prices.

The NFA rice is presently sold in the local markets at P25 to P28 a kilo, depending on their variety and source or origin.

The agency’s rice products are composed of imported and local rice, which are classified as well-milled, strong regular-milled, regular-milled, Iron-fortified and remilled Iron-fortified.