Rough cuts | What rice shortage?

AN OFFICIAL of the National Food Authority (NFA) assured the Davao public that there is no shortage of rice if they see NFA rice bins in the markets empty.

NFA Davao City Assistant Manager Ma. Elaine M. Respecia in a media interview said that every NFA authorized retailer in the city’s four main markets is allocated 30 bags of NFA rice per week for disposal to consumers. As for retailers in the minor markets including those selling rice in the talipapa, they are allocated 20 bags per week.

So if rice bins in NFA retailer’s stores are empty it is likely that they are trying to stretch out their supply up to the afternoon so the 30 or 20 bags of NFA rice will suffice until the following week when their stocks are replenished by the NFA, according to the NFA lady executive. In other words, the retailers are given leeway to strategize their sale process to consumers.

If indeed that is the policy of the NFA to replenish stocks only every week what is the difference between the retailers selling more quantity of rice to each individual consumer, and when the stock is out they just close shop until the replenishment arrives; and the retailers selling a low of 2 kilos maximum for every customer just to stretch their stock for one week? If these retailers do not have other merchandise to sell then opening their outlets with so little sales volume could only result to bigger non-commensurate overhead expenses.

Our family is a consumer of NFA rice and personally we have, on several occasions, done the buying of the government-subsidized staple. Since we know it is expensive to be going to the market on a daily basis just to buy the NFA rice, we begged the retailer for more kilos to buy. But always we were told that they can only dispose that much kilos for each consumer.

We understand because they invoke that it is a policy set by the NFA. But what we are saddened thinking about is how those coming from the upland and remote communities who come down to buy low-cost NFA rice for their weekly family consumption cope with such policy.

One time we were witness to a resident of sitio Malicongcong in Marilog District. The woman was pleading to the retailer to allow her to buy at least 10 kilos as that would be the quantity of rice that would tide them over until the next week-end for their next marketing and selling of their farm produce. She was denied with the retailer’s assistant telling the woman to look for another NFA outlet that would give her such volume.

The woman could not do anything. She eventually bought two kilos of NFA rice. When she was several meters away from the store we approached her and asked how much would it cost her to travel from Malicongcong to Calinan and she told us the fare for one way “habal-habal” ride is P80.00. What? We could only exclaim in exasperation. So for a round trip it would cost her P160. We asked her what she would do knowing that a two-kilo rice could only last a day for her family. Her answer was, “I have to look for some neighbors and request them to buy two kilos each. She added that she needed to find at least four neighbors or friends to be able to buy the remaining eight kilos she needs to complete her family’s one week rice requirement.

Now we know how both the NFA and the retailers are being given a dose of their own medicine. If the agency is allowing the retailers to do their own scheme to supposedly stretch out their stocks of government subsidized rice to one week, the consumers are also crafting their own innovative strategy to outwit the NFA and its retailers.

But the questions that are bothering a lot of people especially those from the marginalized sector are these: Whose interest is the NFA protecting in putting a very insignificant cap in the stock allocation to its rice retailers, is it that of the consuming public, more specifically the poor in society? Or, is it the interests of the big grains businessmen who are actually the ones dictating the price movement of the country’s main staple? While it may be true that its mandate is to see to it that there is stability in the grains industry with emphasis on the protection of Filipino farmers, it is also primordial for the NFA to ensure that the lowly members of society are given access to affordable rice.

Unfortunately, it is not what is happening now. How can such mandate be considered religiously followed when folks from the highlands and other remote villages will have to spend for transport fares quadruple the cost of the maximum quantity of NFA rice that he or she can buy?

To us, this scheme by the NFA could only mean one thing: that the agency is pushing the marginalized sector to patronize the big-time rice businessmen even if their money could afford only so less in terms of quantity.

We do not know if it would be asking too much for the NFA to revisit its stock allocation plan to its retailers. There is nothing wrong in innovating something that would result to the greater good of the greater number.

Posted in Opinion