The past few weeks, high rice retail prices have prompted consumer uproar, calling for political intervention to bring down rice prices in the market.
Public discussions and reactions, however, were more about shallow political quick-fix solutions to address symptoms and not an honest appreciation or study of solutions to address the decades-old recurring “rice crisis”. Absent was any sincere effort to understand and identify the root cause of the rice crisis and provide lasting solutions to the economically and politically destabilizing, recurring event.
It is lunacy to apply the same political quick-fix remedies that have historically delivered the same outcome. Obviously, the solutions applied to address the recurring rice crisis have not cured or addressed the root cause of the problem.
Food security is not synonymous to adequacy of food supply from domestic production or self-sufficiency, nor is it adequacy of supply that is already within the country. Food security requires that all sectors of society have access and entitlement to the staple food at any place of the country at all times, especially in times of calamities.
As such, food security has four key elements of operations; namely, availability (of supply), accessibility (supply within the reach of everyone), affordability (food is within the purchasing power of everyone), and relief operation (food entitlement of everyone affected by calamity or emergency situation).
Food security requires that these elements are consistently taken care of at all times. Any inadequacy in any one of the elements means that food security is wanting.
The clamor to abolish the present National Food Authority (NFA) is primarily due to the perceived financial mismanagement as allegedly evidenced by the huge so-called “losses” accumulated through the years. After a thorough scrutiny of the reasons/causes, the “losses” referred to would be appropriately appreciated as “costs” of providing food security services and not “losses”.
The PD4 which created the NGA-NFA had provided for a sufficient funding support; a mechanism that policy makers and/or implementers failed to perform resulting to accumulation of “losses” through the years, which includes compounded interests.
In general, the food security agency successfully did its job of performing its mandated food security function. The few occasions that supply and/or price crisis were experienced can be attributed to shortfall in domestic production and/or delayed importation or insufficient volume to satisfy consumption requirement. These factors were beyond the food security agency’s control.
Tracing the root cause of these perceived “ineffectiveness” or “inefficiency” of the food security agency lead us to the performance or non-performance of the policy making body, the NFA Council. The non-availability of sufficient or timely rice supply for the consumer rice market should not be attributable to the NFA management or its operation as the frontline food security agency. It does not have control or influence in palay/rice production nor can it force the timeliness of NFA Council decision to meet palay/rice production shortfall, which they dutifully monitor, through importation.
The provision of food security by the government must continue. It is unrealistic to expect the private sector to take up government’s role to ensure food security. It would be politically risky, irresponsible and presumptuous to assume that food security can be left to the private sector to address. Market mechanisms cannot be relied upon to assure adequate and reasonably priced rice supply, especially in the remote barangays of the country. Neither can the interaction between the economic forces of demand and supply assure that our farmers will get a reasonable farmgate price for their palay or will it bring down rice retail prices in the market.
We have to note that the seasonality of rice production versus the relatively constant demand for rice throughout the year requires buffer stocking by the government. The insular condition of the country necessitates efficient monitoring, dispersal and distribution of buffer stocks at the right time and place. We also have a big percentage of our people belonging to the “very poor” category needing rice price subsidy to survive. And our country is prone to natural and man-made calamities or emergencies needing frequent relief emergency operations from the government.
The profit-motivation of the private businessmen is inherent and the paramount reason for them to be in business. The social responsibility dimension or the desire to serve their community, or others, has not yet transcended their nature and strong motivation to gain profit and accumulate wealth. We need to recognize that as, private citizens, businessmen pay taxes and therefore expect the government to take up the responsibility for ensuring food security.
Abolition of our food security agency, the NFA, is therefore not a solution that would be beneficial to the nation nor would it solve the decades-old, recurring rice crisis. Instead, it is proposed that the NFA, as the frontline food security agency, be transformed into a service or logistics agency.
The strengths of the present NFA can be harnessed and put to productive use; its hard and soft assets immediately re-employed at the least cost or disruption to government’s need to assure food security services. The agency’s ills/weaknesses can be addressed in the reorganization so that all the objections or criticisms…perceived or otherwise…will be a thing of the past. All the present mandate objectives and all present NFA deliverables will still be performed; roles, responsibilities and accountabilities shall now be clearly defined to avoid dropping of the ball.
To realize this vision/proposal, important steps to metamorphose the NFA into a logistics corporation or agency need to be undertaken. There will be a need to craft a New Charter for NFA to address its role, function, expectation and accountability in the delivery of food security; redefining the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of support agencies involved from production/supply to delivery in ensuring food security; reassigning non-germane functions lodged with today’s NFA to other government agencies/instrumentalities such as regulatory, research, development, etc.; and adopting a financially self-reliant business-like posture in its management and operations as a logistics agency, without losing sight of the social responsibility inherent in a government outfit.
The envisioned logistics corporation in conjunction with the identified support of government instrumentalities shall continue to ensure food security in the country. Efficacy, financial viability and cost effectiveness would be the guiding principles of the re-engineered food security program of the nation.
(This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP. The author is a member of the MAP National Issues Committee and the Chair and President of BNL Management Corporatio, and former Administrator of the NFA. Feedback at <email@example.com> and <firstname.lastname@example.org>. For previous articles, please visit <map.org.ph>)