By Adrian H. Halili, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES needs to focus on improving market access for farmers to support its agriculture industry, an official with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said last week.

“The main challenge in the Philippines is access to markets. It is very complicated,” FAO Country Representative for the Philippines Lionel Henri Valentin Dabbadie told BusinessWorld.

He said that farmers are having difficulty selling their produce due to the country’s archipelagic nature, leaving producers mainly dependent on their local markets or on traders who consolidate their harvests.

“Most of the time, those traders are also small traders, and they also don’t have a lot of money,” he added.

Last week, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said it will invest in constructing a network of cold storage facilities to minimize post-harvest losses and allow commodities to be stored to maintain their quality during periods of oversupply.

The facilities would allow farmers to generate revenue from their harvests, even if it requires waiting until market conditions improve.

“When you see the product arriving in the market, the quality is not very good. So, you can definitely improve the quality of the product; to improve it, you need to have (more) investment” Mr. Dabbadie said.

Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jr. said the DA is budgeting P1 billion for the construction of four cold storage facilities on Luzon.

Mr. Laurel added that another P5 billion is needed in the next three years to construct other such facilities elsewhere.

“It is definitely something that should have been done a long time ago, and (this plan) is going in the right direction,” Mr. Dabbadie added.

In a Palace briefing, Mr. Laurel said that there had been no major investments in postharvest facilities in the last 40 years, with those that were built being too small to make an impact on post-harvest losses.

The government has also invested in the building of more farm to market roads, with around 67,328.92 kilometers built last year.

“There is a real need for investment in Philippine agriculture, particularly from the point of view of facilitating access to markets and improving the quality of the markets,” he said.

He added that the FAO is considering supporting the government with projects to improve the agriculture value chain.