February 23, 2024

Agriculture Sec. Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jr. assured lawmakers that his agency is closely watching the market and is taking steps to assure sufficient supply of food items at affordable prices, particularly rice, sugar, and onions.

Appearing before the Committee on Agriculture and Food of the House of Representatives, Laurel said he gave importers less than five weeks to use the permits granted to them to buy an additional one million tons of rice from abroad to boost local stocks.

Sabi ko kapag hindi ninyo i-import ‘yan within 30 days, kakanselahin ko lahat yan because I don’t want to be held hostage by permits that were issued to them upon their request,” Laurel told lawmakers.

By assuring import permits are used quickly, the Department of Agriculture could better manage the supply of rice, the country’s main food staple, and avoid price surges that hurt consumers.

The DA expects total palay harvest this year to exceed 20 million metric tons compared to 19.76 million tons last year while total rice imports are projected at 2.86 million tons – barring additional imports in the coming weeks – down one million tons from 2022 levels.

The DA said based on current numbers, the country has a rice surplus of 2.98 million metric tons that is enough to last 80 days.

Additional imports would extend that supply period through the next harvest season starting March. High global price of rice due mainly to India’s ban on export of non-basmati rice, however, has discouraged rice importation.

House Committee Chair, Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga sought assurance from the DA that price of onions would not skyrocket like happened last year, when prices soared to P700 a kilo in December.

 “I’m closely monitoring this (onion prices) and we will take steps para hindi na mangyari ‘yung nangyari noong nakaraang taon,” the agriculture chief said.

As for sugar, Laurel said there is an ample stock of the commodity, but that supply is already contracted to industrial users.

He said sugar should be selling at P85 a kilo, not P100.

“We will do some interventions soon in order to address this (price disparity) problem. Unfortunately, I cannot divulge publicly kung ano yung mga gagawin natin through the efforts of the Department of Trade and Industry, Sugar Regulatory Administration, and DA,” Laurel said. – Press release