MANILA - President Duterte ordered the National Food Authority (NFA) to purchase rice from local farmers to boost stockpiles, saying that importing at the moment was not a good move.
Duterte issued the directive just hours after the NFA said it needed to buy 490,800 tonnes of rice to boost its stockpiles that have fallen below the required level ahead of the July-September lean harvest season.
The NFA sought approval from the NFA Council for the immediate importation of 250,000 tonnes of rice under a government-to-government arrangement.
"Buy first from the local producers... then if there is a shortfall, (the NFA) might decide to import," Duterte said in a media briefing in Davao City, before leaving for a week-long trip to the Middle East.
Major suppliers of rice - Vietnam and Thailand - are on the lookout for fresh demand from the Philippines, one of the world's biggest buyers. However, the NFA Council, which is composed of the country's economic managers, is yet to approve any purchase.
"At present, the NFA needs an additional 490,800 metric tonnes, or 9.8 million bags, of rice to meet the mandated volumes for food security," NFA Administrator Jason Aquino said in a statement.
The NFA, the government's food security watchdog, is required to maintain a rice stockpile good to last for 15 days at any given time and for 30 days at the onset of the lean months. As of February, the stockpiles were sufficient for only 14 days.
Duterte agrees with his Agriculture Sec. Manny Piñol, who insisted there is no urgent need to import rice because of an anticipated bumper harvest locally.
"It is harvest time now. The harvest is good. (The yield) per hectare is three times the original output," Duterte said.
Piñol added that he expects the local rice harvest in the first quarter to be 210,000 tonnes more compared with a year-old period.
"Any imports at this time will result in the collapse of the buying price of (local) paddy rice to the disadvantage of the farmers," Piñol said.
However, Aquino wants the rice imports to arrive as early as this month to allow the agency enough time to prepare for any calamities, and also assured Piñol that no imports would be released into the market to compete with commercial stocks.