PSA slams DA chief for doubting rice data

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In Photo: In this file photo, workers of the National Food Authority pile up sacks of rice in one of the food agency’s warehouses.

By Cai U. Ordinario & Jasper Emmanuel Y. Arcalas

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) on Thursday criticized the chief of the Department of Agriculture (DA) for questioning the accuracy and reliability of the rice-inventory data it releases periodically.

In an e-mail sent to BusinessMirror, the PSA said its data on rice stocks are based on various sources, namely, households, commercial and depositories of the National Food Authority (NFA).

PSA’s data on rice stocks are also released monthly and cover all provinces, except Batanes, and includes the National Capital Region, Zamboanga City and Davao City.

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“Information on stocks from households is not affected by memory bias because of the regularity of the survey and because of the fact that stocking of rice is a common practice among households,” the PSA said.

“[It is also] the only attempt to capture stocks of grain at the household level not only in the Philippines, but also in Southeast Asia,” it added.

The PSA said the Palay and Corn Stocks Survey undergoes quality control done through two levels of review—provincial and national.  The data, which cover even urban households, are also readily available and accessible to all data users.

However, the PSA did recognize that there are areas of improvement in the statistics. But these were more “cosmetic”, such as the use of technology for data collection, like tablets.  “PSA puts [the data]together one month after reference period e.g., 1st of April stocks is released first week of May,” PSA Deputy National Statistician of the Sectoral Statistics Office Romeo Recide told the BusinessMirror.

Recide was also the former head of the Bureau of Agriculture Statistics before it was placed under the supervision of the PSA in 2012.

The PSA is the country’s main statistical agency. It combined the National Statistics Office, National Statistical Coordination Board, Bureau of Agriculture Statistics and the Bureau of Labor and Employment Statistics into one agency.

The PSA’s current head is National Statistician Lisa Grace Bersales. She was appointed by former President Benigno S. Aquino III in April 2014 as the country’s first PSA National Statistician.

The PSA was created through Republic Act 10625, otherwise known as the Philippine Statistical Act of 2013, which became effective in December 2013.

Its primary objectives are to rationalize and promote efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of statistical services and maintain an integrated statistical system characterized by independence, objectivity and integrity so as to enhance responsiveness to the requirements of equitable national development.

It also aims to promote the orderly development of a statistical system capable of providing timely, accurate and useful data for the government and the public, and support decentralization through the establishment of the statistical infrastructure necessary to service the statistical needs of local development planning.

‘Inspection not needed’

The NFA on Thursday said there was no immediate need to conduct the mandatory inspection of warehouses as they have yet to receive reports of rice hoarding.

“It’s not yet needed at the moment. But if we see that the situation calls for it [mandatory inspection] or we feel that there’s already hoarding, then we can do it,” NFA Spokesman Marietta Ablaza told the BusinessMirror.

“But so far, there’s no such situation yet. The NFA conducts monthly surveys of warehouse inventory and we do not see evidence of hoarding,” Ablaza added.

The NFA official made the statement in reaction to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol’s pronouncement that he would seek the creation of a task force to conduct a mandatory inspection of all warehouses in the country to come up with a “more accurate” rice inventory. Piñol also said the PSA’s rice inventory is “not accurate” as the government’s major statistical agency did not take into account rice being smuggled into the country.

“If there are suspicions that there is rice hoarding then there’s no problem about it. He can initiate the inspection as we in the NFA usually conduct inspections if there’s possible hoarding,” Ablaza said.

The envisioned task force, which will be spearheaded by the DA, would include the NFA, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Bureau of Customs, National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine National Police and the PSA, according to Piñol.

Ablaza disclosed that the current rice stock of the NFA is already below the mandated 15-day consumption requirement.

“That’s why we are pushing for the importation of rice in preparation for the lean months,” she said.

Ablaza, however, refused to disclose the exact rice stocks of the agency, as this could encourage speculation among unscrupulous traders. “The NFA does not generally divulge data during this time, when the situation is tight because it might cause speculation in the market, resulting in higher rice prices, which could affect consumers,” she said.

The latest report from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that rice inventory in NFA depositories as of March 1, pegged at 396,970 metric tons (MT), is good for 12 days.

The NFA official also said the food agency is not on-track with its palay procurement target for the January-to-April period, as private traders willingly bought paddy rice at a higher price.

As of April 18, Ablaza said the NFA has only purchased 13 percent, or some 159,000 50-kilogram bags of palay, of its procurement target of 1.2 million bags. The 159,000 50-kg bags is equivalent to 7,950 MT.

“That’s why we’re pushing for the importation because we cannot buy from the farmers,” she said.

The food agency targets to buy 4,607,350 50-kg bags of palay, or 230,675.5 MT this year. The NFA’s 2017 palay procurement target is more than double the 107,877 MT volume of palay it bought from farmers last year.

The NFA buys clean and dry palay at P 17/kg. The food agency gives an additional incentive of P0.20-0.50/kg for delivery, P0.20/kg for drying and P0.30 for cooperative development incentive fund (CDIF) for farmers’ organizations.

PSA data showed that the farm-gate price of palay as of second week of palay continued to increase, reaching P18.71/kg. Based on monitoring by NFA field offices, there are provinces where palay were bought at P22/kg.

Image Credits: Nonie Reyes