A farmer group on Wednesday said that reversing the rice liberalization law would help address the low procurement of rice grains and high rice inflation.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said that the law gave 'much authority and upper hand' to private rice traders in controlling rice supply and prices, while rice farmers struggle with production and harvests due to drought and dry spells.

The group also said that government rice importation would not solve the crisis and could harm the country's rice industry further.

"It is easy and convenient for the government to rely on importation to ensure rice supply but importation and liberalization are what's causing the cyclic rice crisis," the group's statement read, quoting KMP Chairperson Danilo Ramos.

'Many farmers reported stunted palay crops due to a lack of rainwater and irrigation as a result of the ongoing El Niño,' it added.

Citing the National Food Administration (NFA), the group also said that the agency's palay procurement for February fell short of its target as rice traders outbid the NFA. 'The NFA's palay buying price is at P23 per kilo while traders offer P25 to P27 per kilo for clean and dry palay,' the group's statement read.

"Farmers are willing to sell to the NFA if only the agency would offer a higher buying price. Sobrang taas pa rin ng gastos sa produksyon sa bawat ektarya ng palay. Kung mababa ang bili ng NFA sa palay ng mga magsasaka, wala nang kikitain o malulugi ang mga magsasaka," the group added, quoting Ramos.

(Farmers are willing to sell to the NFA if only the agency would offer a higher buying price. The production costs per hectare of rice are still very high. If the NFA buys rice from farmers at a low price, farmers will either earn nothing or incur losses).

Last week, the Philippine Statistics Authority said that the country's rice inflation rose to 24.4% in March, slightly up from February's 23.7%.

National Statistician and Philippine Statistics Authority chief Claire Dennis Mapa said that rice inflation is expected to rise until July.

On April 3, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported that agricultural damage from the El Niño phenomenon exceeded P1.2 billion, impacting nearly 30,000 farmers and fisherfolk.

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