By Mario B. Casayuran
Opposition Senator Francis N. Pangilinan said on Thursday that national government agencies and local government units (LGUs) can now directly buy food for their relief operations from farmers and farmers’ organizations.
Pangilinan, former Presidential Adviser on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, said this is made possible by the approval of the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) circular detailing how national government and LGUs could directly procure from farmers and farmers’ organizations, particularly for their food requirements during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) period.
Pangilinan said he is constantly in touch with the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) in institutionalizing a mechanism for LGUs “to go directly and purchase directly through negotiated contracts with farmers’ organizations for produce which they need as they monitor the enhanced quarantine in Luzon and other areas.”
A small-scale vegetable farmer himself, Pangilinan said the system will also get rid of the middlemen who purchase the farmers’ produce at lower prices yet sell them high in the commercial market.
“Government is stepping in. Dati ang ating mga farmers, hawak sa leeg ng mga traders and middlemen. But now, with government coming in and needing these agricultural products whether it’s livestock, whether it’s chicken, pork, or agricultural products, rice, they will get it at a negotiated price or a fair market price,” he said. (Traders and middlemen earlier held farmers by the neck.)
With a support mechanism in place, Pangilinan said farmers will also continue to plant.
“If this is going to be a prolonged quarantine — qualified or transitioning into a semi-quarantine situation because until we have a vaccine precisely, we are going to have to maintain social distancing — we are going to have to maintain a new normal which is very different from how it was before this pandemic and food will be critical,” he added.
“And so, this is strategically important in the long run. As we face this new normal, how do we secure our food? And therefore, direct purchases to our farmers and farmers’ organizations is an opportunity for them to up their income but at the same time to sustain their planting practices,” he said.
While the cash aid that farmers should get from the Bayanihan Law will be a big help, the more sustainable support will come in the form of having a steady market for their produce so that they can continue with their planting cycle, he said.
“Hindi biro ang pagtatanim (planting is no fun). You stop planting for two to three weeks, one month later, two months later, delayed ang supply natin. I think the best support is, apart from cash assistance which is part of the law — the Bayanihan Law provided for cash assistance to rice farmers — I think precisely upping their incomes by purchasing directly from them will really be the biggest incentive for them to continue planting and that they know that their products will not be sold — hindi sila malulugi or babaratin sa presyo at magtatanim at magtatanim ‘yan,” Pangilinan said.
Under Section 6 of the GPPB circular, the barangay captain can certify that a farmer is a bona fide farmer of the area and that certification will be enough basis for a purchase contract for the procurement entity with either the local government unit (LGU) or the Department of Agriculture (DA) for their purchase of products.
Vegetables and farm supplies have become part of the relief packs being distributed by some local government units to their constituents amid the quarantine period.
Pangilinan emphasized that as COVID-19 slowly creeps into communities, food has never been more important in securing the health and safety of families.
He said Filipino farmers could help stave off a pandemic-related food crisis in the country as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown in many parts of the world.
Pangilinan said government intervention should always be in place to allow farmers and agricultural workers to continue their work and to provide channels for marketing their produce to mitigate the risk of food shortage and high prices.
“This enhanced quarantine has disrupted our food supply and the longer this stays disrupted, hunger will step in and this is something we really need to face squarely,” he added.