MANILA - An official of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said it was "too early to say" if the entry of imported rice was causing a slump in rice farm-gate prices.
NEDA Assistant Secretary Mercy Sombilla said on Tuesday that based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), there were some areas where farm-gate prices of rice had fallen to P13 or P14 per kilo.
Some farmers also complained that millers were no longer buying their harvest amid the slump in prices.
But, on the average, Sombilla said, farm-gate prices were still at a healthy level of P18.50 per kilo.
"We really don't know if it really is, it's too early to say if it's really the law impacting this," Sombilla said referring to the Rice Trade Liberalization law, which removes import quotas on rice and replaces them with tariffs.
"We take the observation of farmers with concern, but we're really trying to determine if that's the case, or if there's reluctance of millers to be going to the farmers to buy their produce," Sombilla said.
Several farmers groups had been protesting the law, saying the entry of cheap imported rice may kill the local rice industry.
The NEDA official, meanwhile, urged the National Food Authority (NFA) to help farmers by buying harvests in areas where farm-gate prices were slumping.
"We're trying to push NFA, this is the time the farmers need them. You need to go to these places where they are experiencing these kinds of problems and buy already because you need to beef up your buffer stocks. Especially with PAGASA's projection of El Niño being extended beyond May or June."
She said the NFA can still buy rice from local farmers at P20 per kilo.
The NEDA is also proposing to have a cash transfer program for rice farmers, to protect them in case prices plunge to very low levels. - Report from Bruce Rodriguez, ABS-CBN News