The country’s food producers – farmers, fishermen, and livestock raisers – are now facing the worst crisis in years.
This was declared by United Broiler Raisers’ Association (UBRA) President Bong Inciong during the Farmers and Fisherfolks Congress on Friday. According to Inciong, the country’s food producers are now experiencing the worst crisis in years amid the pandemic due to several factors, such as “decades of government neglect, the prevalence of COVID-19 pandemic, and pro-importation policies of the government.”
“We are now paying the price for the long-term neglect of the sector. The economy and our people would not be as badly hit if agri-fisheries were in a better place [prior to the pandemic],” Inciong said.
He said the agriculture sector is being managed by the government solely based on the “suggestions of economists and not the country’s food producers.”
UBRA is among the more than 10 agriculture groups, whose members are fishers and farmers, announced that they are going to boycott the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) National Food Security Summit, which will take place on May 18 to 19.
The farmers’ groups that decided to boycott the summit held their own Farmers and Fisherfolks Congress 2021, which took place the whole day of May 14.
During the Congress, former Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano expressed concerns over the possible liberalization of other farm products like pork, corn, chicken, sugar, and fish based on the government’s recent pronouncements and “body language.”
Inciong said the potential liberalization of other farm products is “worrisome” and will cause long-term damage not only to the agriculture sector but the entire economy.
Though he did not specify it, Serrano may be referring to two of DA’s latest proposals to temporarily bring down the tariff on pork imports as well as increase the minimum access volume (MAV) allocation on pork in order to bring down meat prices.
For his part, Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines (PROPORK) vice president Nicanor Briones said that because of the government’s failure to address the spread of African Swine Fever (ASF) as well as its proposal to allow the entry of more imported pork, the local hog industry is now experiencing some sort of a depression.
“We already lost P100 billion. A lot of raisers are closing down their piggeries. Some are bankrupt. It’s really a depression that we are experiencing, and some hog raisers have literally committed suicide already,” Briones said during the congress.
On the part of rice farmers, Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) National Manager Raul Montemayor said that until now, farmers are also still reeling from the impact of the liberalization of rice imports in the country due to low farm-gate prices.
Just recently, the Philippines has posted an “embarrassingly high” poverty incidence of 31.6 percent among farmers and a whopping trade deficit of US$5.9 billion.
Emil Q. Javier, chairman of the Coalition for Agricultural Modernization of the Philippines (CAMP), said the Philippines’ food export just totaled only $5.1 billion, a figure far exceeded by imports.
“All is not well in Philippine agriculture. We have food exports of only $5.1 billion but a trade deficit of $5.9 billion. [That makes Philippines’] dubious distinction of being the only net food deficit country among ASEAN 5,” he said.
The other progressive ASEAN countries are Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Singapore.
A “nearsighted” focus of government leaders on what can be accomplished during their short, political six-year term has made the Philippines the laggard among progressing neighbors, according to the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) President Danilo V. Fausto.
He then urged the government to plan on a long-term basis, not on a reactive basis on just what happens in the global economy.
“Government leaders come and go based on their term. But we in the private sector are invested in. Our children and our children’s children depend on agriculture for business and livelihood. My appeal is for the government to consider agriculture not as charity but as a sustainable venture,” said Fausto.
During the first quarter of the year, the Philippine agriculture sector registered a poor performance, falling by 3.3 percent from the decline of only 1.7 percent during the same period last year, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed.
Nevertheless, Dar has remained optimistic that a growth of 2.5 percent can still be achieved for the sector by the end of the year.
For the National Food Security Summit next week, officials of the DA and local government units (LGU) are scheduled to speak. The summit aims to discuss immediate concerns affecting the farm sector. Economists Ramon Clarete, Cielito Habito, and Rolando Dy are expected to speak at the event.
Other speakers scheduled to speak at the Summit were Agriculture Secretary William Dar, Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Qu Dongyu, Senator Cynthia Villar, Congressman Mark Enverga, Monetary Board member Bruce Tolentino, AGREA Philippines President Cherrie Atilano, Tugon Kabuhayan Co-convenor Norberto Chingcuanco, among others.