A farmer threshes newly harvested palay grains at a ricefield in Mogpog, Marinduque in central Philippines, March 22, 2016. — REUTERS

THE National Food Authority (NFA) Council said on Thursday that it approved buying prices for palay, or unmilled rice, that top out at P30 per kilogram (kg), depending on how the grain is graded and with price variations by location.

“What the (NFA) Council approved is a range for dry and clean palay of between P23 to P30 (per kg). For fresh, it is about P17 to P23 (per kg),” Agriculture Assistant Secretary and Spokesman Arnel V. de Mesa told reporters.

Last year, the NFA set the purchase price for dry and wet palay at P19-P23 and P16-P19 per kg, respectively.

The NFA is tasked with purchasing domestically grown rice and hold it in reserve in the event of shortages or calamities.

Traders are buying dry palay from farmers at P27 to P30 per kg.

“If the NFA’s buying price is P23 per kilo, (they) really can’t buy anything — minimal amounts at best. So, it was hiked a little so that the NFA can catch up with the price offered by traders at the moment,” he said.

Additionally, Mr. De Mesa said that rice held by NFA warehouses will now be disposed of through auction.

Stocks held for less than six months will be about 20% cheaper than the monitored prices of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), while rice kept for longer than six months will be sold at a discount of about 30% from the PSA monitored price. 

NFA OIC Administrator Larry Lacson said that the agency will begin drafting guidelines on the new purchasing price, which will vary by province.

He added that the NFA is expecting to implement the new price scheme next week.

“There is no uniform price nationwide… It’s on a per province basis. ’Yun ang isang bago ngayon (that’s what is new now). We will issue a price bulletin for each province,” Mr. Lacson said.

Asked to comment, Raul Q. Montemayor, Federation of Free Farmers national manager, said that few farmers can comply with the NFA’s quality standards due to lack of access to drying, storage and trucking facilities.  

“Still, it will be a good opportunity for some farmers to sell to the NFA rather than to traders who are currently buying at between P25 to P27 per kilo,” Mr. Montemayor said in a Viber message.

Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy L. Estavillo said that the government should increase the procurement budget of the NFA so that a “significant volume” of rice can be purchased from domestic farmers.

“At the same time, the NFA should also relaxing the requirement for the types of rice they buy. Ordinary farmers cannot meet the 100% clean and 14% dry standard due to the lack of post-harvest facilities,” Ms. Estavillo said in a Viber message.

As of March 1, the national inventory of rice declined 3% to 1.37 million metric tons (MT), the PSA reported.

Stocks held by NFA facilities declined 59.9% to 41,290 MT compared with a year earlier. — Adrian H. Halili