National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Jason Aquino completed his first year as NFA head on January 11, 2018, his stewardship highlighted by major reforms and good housekeeping policies that tided the agency over in fulfilling its mandate of food security and stabilization despite the lowest buffer stock inventory the agency has ever handled in recent years.

The NFA had reduced its debt by P5.8 billion, P171.9 million was saved on operating expenses, P120 million was collected from accounts receivables, P137.3 million in income went to farmers through its palay procurement operations, P 6.3 billion in savings went to consumers who bought cheaper but good quality NFA rice, contracts were standardized as an anti-corruption measure, and post-harvest facilities were modernized, among the many accomplishments achieved during Aquino's watch.

A man of few words, but charismatic and astute leader, Administrator Aquino has personally visited NFA offices in 11 Regions and 23 provinces and cities to meet with the employees and stakeholders, as well as to participate in various activities and inspect field facilities and sites.

“I’d like to see things happening with my own eyes, rather than just receiving reports. I’d rather meet our employees and stakeholders in the field up close and listen to their concerns than wait for the traditional channels of communication so that we can immediately address and resolve any problems before they get out of hand,” Aquino said.

Rewarding good performance and infusing more dynamism into the workforce, a total of 478 employees were promoted while 320 new employees were hired during the year. Aquino stressed that promotions and periodic personnel movement is a strong driver for competence and efficiency.

On operations, 99.97% of stored stocks were maintained in good, consumable condition. This meant almost zero stock deterioration, through good warehouse-keeping practices and efficient operations.

Throughout the year, the agency was able to maintain strategic rice reserve (SRR) good for 7 days, lower than the volume set by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) at 15 days buffer stock at any given time, and at 30 days by July 1 or the onset of the lean months.

The country's daily national rice consumption requirement is 629,260 bags or 31,463 metric tons. But the NFA Council approved only the importation of the 250,000 MT balance from the 500,000MT approved in 2016. Despite that, NFA was able to effectively address the food security needs of calamity victims and stabilize rice prices in the market through its network of accredited rice retailers nationwide.

A total of 636,666 bags rice were released for calamity victims, including those displaced in Marawi and the victims of typhoons Urduja and Vinta.

Although NFA was unable to meet its palay procurement target due to higher prices offered by traders, the agency was still able to buy 569,788 bags of palay at P17/kilogram. Palay ex-farm prices averaged at P18-P22/kg during the year.

At the estimated palay production cost of P12.18/kg, the NFA's buying price gave farmers an income of P4.82/kg or a total of P137.3 M for the total volume bought.

On the other hand, a total of 14,017,286 bags quality rice were distributed through NFA accredited rice retailers at P27/kg for the regular-milled variety and P32/kg for the well-milled variety.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that commercial rice prices of similar quality as the NFA's P32/kg well-milled rice was being sold at an average of P41/kg. The price difference of P9/kg effectively translated to P6.3 B savings on the food budget of consumers who bought NFA rice.

Prudent financial management has continuously reduced NFA's debts from P 158.62 B in Dec 2016 to P 152.64 B in Dec 2017, the biggest reduction in the past 7 years. At the same time, NFA's bank borrowings of P119.550 B were lower than the P144 B target loan ceiling for NFA in 2017.

Austerity measures were implemented to reduce costs on supplies and materials, repairs and maintenance, travelling, utility and communication expenses resulting to some P172 million savings from operating expenses.

Intensive collection efforts also yielded results: over P120 million was collected from overdue accounts and several collection cases were won, adding more inflows to the agency's coffers.

On industry regulation and enforcement, the registration and licensing info system (RLIS) was fully implemented in 35 provinces, and more grains businessmen got their license from NFA, totaling 75,625 or 101.04% more than the target 74,841 licensees. Fees collected likewise increased by 109% or P156 million from the P143 million target.

To continuously update stakeholders with NFA policies and effectively resolve problems and concerns, a total of 936 Farmers Ugnayan with 15,190 participants and 425 Grains Businessmen Ugnayan with 11,877 participants were conducted throughout the year.

A total of 39,407 grains business establishments were inspected across the country netting collections of about P14 in administrative fees and fines for violation of rice trading rules and regulations.

Quick response was given to customer and stakeholder concerns. A total of 26,700 stakeholders were assisted on their inquiries, requests and complaints through the agency's Customer Assistance Units (CAUs) while 12 complaints on NFA offices, officials or employees via Hotline 8888 were received and resolved. Hotline 8888 was mainstreamed at NFA effective Nov 2017.

NFA collaborated with PhilMaize in developing and launching the rice-corn blend as next staple during the 13th National Corn Congress on November 22-24 and its re-launch in Davao City on December 21, 2017. NFA will help market the rice-corn blend through its accredited rice retailers and certify that the corn used is GMO-free.

Administrator Aquino also made sure that NFA fulfills its international commitments. On April 26-27, 2017, NFA hosted the 37th ASEAN Food Security Reserve Board (AFSRB) Meeting in Makati City. He or his representative also attended meetings of the ASEAN Plus Three Emergency Rice Reserve (APTERR) in Bangkok, Thailand; 5th Council Meeting of APTERR in Bali, Indonesia; Special SOM -AMAF and ASEAN – Russia Senior Officials Meeting in Singapore; AMAF in Chiang Mai, Thailand; and the 11th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

For this year, the NFA will start implementing standard contract and terms of reference (TOR) on security services. Standard TORs on trucking, hauling and warehouse handling will be finalized in the first quarter and implemented immediately.

There is also the possibility of a bigger role for NFA with the President's directive for the agency to help in marketing other agricultural products.

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