Continued surge in rice price seen

A RICE monitoring group on Monday predicted that retail prices of the staple will further rise in the first quarter of this year because of poor palay production and despite imported rice flooding the market.

In a radio interview, Bantay Bigas spokesman Cathy Estavillo said the P39 and P40 per kilo of rice are no longer available in local markets, and what remains is the P38 a kilo of regular milled rice, which has a bad smell and taste.

"As early as last year, we already feared the increase in the retail prices of rice. There is a low palay production and while we are being flooded with imported rice, it did not help bring down the prices," Estavillo said.

In 2022, the government imported 3.8 million metric tons of rice.

"Retailers retained the P38 price just to show that consumers have access to cheap rice," Estavillo said.

A kilo of palay ranges between P16 and P17, she said. "Traders buy palay from our farmers at very low prices despite the high cost of production, and there are fears from our farmers that the P16 to P17 per kilo will further go down amid the rains being experienced in the country."

Farmers are also beset by the high cost of fertilizer, which sells by as much as P3,500 a bag.

A bag of fertilizer last year sold at between P950 and P1,000, Estavillo said.

On Monday, several militant groups picketed the Department of Agriculture (DA) in Quezon City to protest the soaring prices of agricultural products.

Agriculture deputy spokesman Rex Estoperez said the department is closely monitoring rice prices.

The DA also has to contend with the soaring price of onions.

On Monday, Sen. Maria Josefa Imelda "Imee" Marcos said the shortage of onions in the country, which triggered the price hike, could have been averted had the DA made a "timely" and "well-projected" minimal importation.

Marcos said the price of onions "had taken us on this mad roller coaster ride during the last few months. It is apparent that there is an abject lack of planning [on the part of DA]."

Another senator, Cynthia Villar, said that the DA's onion supply and demand data show there is no shortage.

Villar, whose Committee on Agriculture is holding hearings on the surge in onion price, said that even if there was a shortage of more than 2,000 MT of onions in 2022, there was a surplus of 53,202 MT in 2021.

"So, we could say that we really don't have a shortage to cause an increase in price. That is why we're calling this hearing for the people to be able to explain what is happening. They have to explain to us what is happening in the DA and, of course, in the Bureau of Customs," she said.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel 3rd asked the DA to explain the unmet demand of almost 4,000 MT of onions in 2022 despite a reported surplus in 2021.

Pimentel wondered why the DA reported the shortage despite claiming that 11,000 MT of onions were stored in cold storage facilities which were part of a total of 53,000 MT of supposed supply in 2021.

Another farmers' group on Monday said the arrival of imported onions will depress its farmgate prices.

In a radio interview, Federation of Aritao Farmers of Onion, Garlic and Ginger Growers Association Nueva Vizcaya President Ulysis de Lara said the importation comes during the peak of the onion harvest season. As a result, the farmgate prices of onions.

The prevailing farmgate prices of onions are between P250 and P280 a kilo.

De Lara said onion farmers can meet the growing demand, so "there is no need to import."

Agriculture spokesman Kristine Evangelista said the DA is looking at the possibility of buying directly from onion farmers who want the farmgate price pegged at not lower than P100 a kilo.

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura President Rosendo So said the DA should make sure the imported onions arrive on or before January 27.

So also urged the DA and the Bureau of Customs to confiscate imported onions that will arrive after that date.

Date: 17-Jan-2023