By Madelaine B. Miraflor
As the coronavirus-triggered lockdown started to disrupt the country’s food supply chain, several groups have asked government to provide social protection measures to farmers to ensure food security in the country.
In separate statements, Action for Economic Reforms (AER) and Samahang Industriya ng Agri¬kultura (SINAG) have called on authorities to treat farmers, fisher¬men and livestock raisers as front¬liners during this crisis period, while Rice Watch Action Network, Inc. (R1) has urged the Philippine government to provide social protection measures for farmers.
This developed as farmers are still being barred from reaching their farms because of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) over Luzon.
Rosendo So, SINAG Chair, said the problem is that some farmers don’t live in the same barangay where their farms or food production areas are located.
“The harvest season [for palay] is upon us. We are worried that they cannot harvest if they are not allowed at the checkpoints to go to their farms,” So said.
“The same thing goes for hog farms, aquaculture, and vegetable farms.
But if we stop farmers from producing, what will happen to all of us?” So said.
As for AER, it has called on other members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease (IATF-EID) to provide more regular and comprehensive updates amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic.
AER President Jessica Reyes- Cantos cited issues on the ground with regard to the delay of farmers and fisherfolks’ inter-barangay or inter-municipality movement despite clear guidelines from the Department of Agriculture (DA) that healthy people in the agriculture sector must be allowed to continue tending the fields or going out to the sea.
She emphasized the need for more effective dissemination of these guidelines to the checkpoint personnel implementing the measures.
“Our healthy farmers and fisherfolk must be allowed to continue working, not only because this is their only source of livelihood, but also because we must not hamper the food supply chain,” Cantos said.
“During this difficult period, it is essential that government, civil society, and the private sector have unhampered information flow for us to continue to effectively work together, and prevent cases of unnecessary panic and uncertainty,” she added.
Meanwhile, R1 called on the Duterte administration to act now to prevent a food crisis that threatens to magnify the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In this time of uncertainty, we need to focus on our own farmers and link them to on-going social protection measures to support those most affected by this crisis. We can start by linking rural based enterprises to government procurement. We call on local governments to look into adding fresh produce and even urban gardening starter kits in the food packs,” R1 executive director Hazel Tanchul-ing said.
“Like testing kits, protective personal equipment, hospital beds, we need to have a steady supply of healthy and nutritious food for the Filipino people to give them a fighting chance at beating COVID- 19. The loss of incomes with work stoppage because of the virus can also change people’s eating habits and could result in poorer nutrition,” he added.
On Thursday, IATF-EID has ap¬proved the food resiliency protocol proposed by the DA to speed up the transport of major agri-fishery commodities to Metro Manila and other urban areas in Luzon.
The DA protocol includes the free movement of farmers, fishers, workers in food processing and manufacturing firms, and food supply chain logistics providers.