THE Department of Agriculture (DA) is planning to make its emergency shipments of low-cost vegetables from Bukidnon to Metro Manila more permanent but needs to work out the logistics bottlenecks, Undersecretary Jose Gabriel M. La Viña said.
In an interview with the BusinessWorld on Monday, Mr. La Viña said, “We’re hoping to make it permanent… Bukidnon has 30,000 hectares available (for) highland vegetables. It can also produce strawberries. It’s only a question of bringing the produce to the market.”
The DA operated a TienDA Malasakit temporary market on Friday and Saturday at the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) compound in San Andres, Manila, in which farmers directly sold low-cost produce from Bukidnon, including carrots at P95 per kilo, cabbage at P70 per kilo, chili peppers or sili at P80 per kilo, refined sugar at P49 per kilo, and cardava banana or saba at P17 per kilo.
The market sold P2 million worth of vegetables, according to Mr. La Viña, who noted that the vegetables were still sold at below prevailing market prices despite the cost of transportation. Metro Manila’s traditional vegetable growing areas are in Northern and Central Luzon.
“The long-term [solution] there is really to arrange for cheaper transport… DA is planning to buy two boats,” according to Mr. La Viña.
“Do we do it ourselves or do we negotiate with shipping companies? Produce that is not immediately perishable can go by land but perishables should be airlifted,” Mr. La Viña added.
“The problem is moving around. The food is not in the right place. The demand is here, the food is here, and we have [more than] 7,100 islands. It’s a logistical problem,” according to Mr. La Viña.
A grassroots technology development non-government organization (NGO), Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (SIBAT), said it welcomes the tapping of Bukidnon produce as an alternative to imports.
SIBAT Deputy Director Shen R. Maglinte said tapping alternatives to imports minimizes the drain on dollar reserves.
“Our traditional producing areas (Benguet, Ilocos region) were hit directly by typhoon Ompong (international name: Mangkhut). It’s just a matter of whether the volume provided by Bukidnon will be enough for the additional market or whether Bukidnon’s traditional markets are deprived of supply,” Mr. Maglinte said in a mobile message.
“If it’s the strategy to reduce imports, well and good… Despite calamities, our local producers can be kept afloat despite storm damages… second, we can avoid deficits at least in this case in the balance of our trade as we would not be spending our dollar reserves to buy the imports,” Mr. Maglinte added.
Agricultural damage caused by Ompong, which crossed Northern Luzon and hit parts of Central Luzon, has been estimated at P26.77 billion.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Philippine Crop Insurance Corp. (PCIC) said that it has allocated P1.65 billion in potential payouts to farmers affected by Ompong.
“We have allocated sufficient funds to help farmers recover their investment after Ompong damaged their farms. It’s important that we give timely assistance so farmers can replant quickly and bounce back from their losses more easily and that we will have a stable food supply,” PCIC President Jovy C. Bernabe said in a statement.
Incoming typhoon Paeng, however, is expected to be experienced in Northern Luzon this Friday, according to weather bureau PAGASA which may also raise tropical cyclone warning signals by Thursday.
Meanwhile, Mr. La Viña also called for proper irrigation and the organizing of farmers into cooperatives, as well as lessening the number of vegetable traders, in order for farmers to earn more profit.
“The more traders you have, the less income of farmers…Without irrigation, without organizing the farmers, without contiguous lands, we cannot mechanize. Yung drying, milling, dapat sa farmer na iyon [but] you cannot do it without a coop. If you have that, you’ll earn more money,” Mr. La Viña said.
Mr. Maglinte, however, said that not all cooperatives in the country become successful, and it should also be assured that farm mechanization should not displace farm workers.
“Not all coops in the Philippines, majority are beset by mismanagement. There are two shades of mechanization, one is cost benefit, and the downside is displacement of labor and the farm working sector. Cooperative management of facilities and equipments is still one tract to pursue and its success would depend on the reliability of management,” Mr. Maglinte said.
“In our case we would want a balance, that while you mechanize and achieve efficiency in production, farm workers (sector that has no land but is involved in production as planters, harvesters) should not be displaced and their traditional scope of work substituted with other farm-base income generating means,” he added. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio