Gov’t told to buy directly from local food producers to tame inflation

Published September 12, 2021, 7:15 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

As August inflation rises to its fastest rate since January 2019, Senator Francis Pangilinan urged the proper implementation of Sagip Saka Act, which he said is one of the ways that could help stabilize food prices especially amid the prevalence of the pandemic.

“With the rise in prices, the Sagip Saka Act must be implemented more determinedly to help lower the price of food,” Pangilinan said in a statement.

Senator Kiko Pangilinan

Pangilinan pointed out that as job losses in agriculture constituted the biggest job loss last year, the Sagip Saka Act will also help address employment. Signed into law in April 2019, Sagip Saka Act mandates local government units (LGUs) and national and local government agencies to buy directly from accredited farmers and fisher-folk cooperatives.

This way, Pangilinan said the process could do away with the use of middlemen, thus giving farmers and fishermen bigger income while making agricultural products more affordable for consumers.

“Our food producers are also affected by the pandemic. But if they earn because our government buys from them instead of from foreigners, they will be more encouraged to farm. If they have a lot of harvest, they will be able to sell more at lower prices,” Pangilinan said.

“With the help of this law, food prices will go down, farmers’ income will go up, and the country’s food supply will be ensured – which are important in this pandemic,” he pointed out.

Since the law’s passage, a total of 443 LGUs have purchased agricultural products directly from farmers and fisherfolk as of November 30, 2020.

Citing government data, Pangilinan said food purchase using the direct purchase feature of Sagip Saka increased from P2.592 billion in July 2020 to P2.737 billion in November 2020.

The other day, Ateneo Professor Karlo Fermin Adriano suggested the liberalization of fish importation in order to bring down the cost of fisheries products in the country.

The problem, according to Adriano, is that the country’s fish inflation has been rising consistently from 2017 to 2020, and the trend actually continues to date. In August, fish inflation alone surged by 12.4 percent.

“It is really one of the drivers in food prices,” Adriano told reporters in a briefing hosted by the Fisheries and Aquaculture Board of the Philippines (FAB).

“The reason for rising prices is the declining catch per unit of effort, which can be measured as tons, including labor and vessels. From 1960, it has really been declining, which shows signs of overfishing,” he added.

Unfortunately, he said that it’s the poorest of the poor who suffers the most because of this, given that their food expenditure accounts for 60 percent of their budget.

“With rising prices of meat due to ASF [African Swine Fever], fish as the main source of protein for poor households is now even more important,” Adriano said. “High fish price is a major issue given rising hunger and higher unemployment rate”.

Adriano said that for galunggong alone, he said the country has an annual deficiency of 436,560 MT, while it is 200,090 MT per year for tilapia. For milkfish, the country faces an annual shortage of 227,910 MT.

He then concluded that the answer to high fish prices in the Philippines is basically the liberalization of importation, adding “let the market decide” when to import “just like in the Rice Tariffication Law”. The Rice Tariffication Law is the policy that paved the way for unlimited rice importation in the Philippines.

Adriano’s perspective is in contrast with the views earlier raised by other industry groups in fisheries.

For instance, Norberto Chingcuanco, co-convenor at food security advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan and the vice president for planning of Feedmix Group, said the importation of fish will be detrimental to local fishers and aquaculture players.

Furthermore, he said that the fish volume of 60,000 MT for importation that the Department of Agriculture (DA) recently approved is too much and that there isn’t reliable data that supports the government’s claims that the country lacks that much fish.

Chingcuanco said that the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data, for instance, only take into account the fish that reached the ports, not the actual fish catch that was sold in other market channels and the volume that is being raised in fish ponds.

Adriano, for his part, said the PSA data is the official and only available data so far that could serve as a basis for policy decisions like food importation. And that unless industry players and the government can present another set of data, it is the only data that he will be using to come up with his recommendations.

 
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