by Lilybeth G. Ison, Philippine News Agency | Sunday, 26 June 2016
In line with President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s promise of affordable and available food for the Filipino people, incoming Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Pinol warned unscrupulous traders to play fair and not be too greedy.
“In the ideal world, farmers are supposed to make money producing food, the traders bring it to the market, making a little profit for the effort, and the consumers enjoy affordable food. All three of them end up smiling and happy. That is not the case in the real world, however,” said Pinol in a statement.
“I understand your business but do not be too greedy. Stop squeezing the farmers and fisherfolk dry and making life hard for the consumers,” he warned traders.
Pinol lamented that the food supply chain in the country today is “controlled and even to some extent manipulated by the merchants and the traders.”
“It is the trader who determines how much the price of farmers produce is and it is still the trader who dictates the cost of the food in the market,” he said.
“In the real world, farmers are poor and the consumers are sad as they stretch their budget for food but the traders rake in the money, ride in luxury vehicles and lead lavish lifestyle,” he noted.
Pinol cited some of the supposed blatant anomalies in agricultural pricing and selling:
— Raw rubber prices have plunged from over Php90 per kilo a few years ago to only Php20 per kilo today. Yet, the price of a pick-up rubber tire has gone high to almost Php10,000 per piece;
— Palay buying price is at Php17.50 per kilo but good quality rice is sold at almost Php40 per kilo;
— Oil palm fresh fruit bunch (FFB) is bought at Php3.60 per kilo in the Philippines but the price in Malaysia is Php5.60. In spite of this, palm oil is still being smuggled to the Philippines;
— Hogs are bought at Php90 per kilo live but pork sells as much as Php150 per kilo in the market;
— Traders buy agar-agar from seaweeds farmers for only Php2 per kilo but the Cebu-based processors buy the dried carageenan for over Php30 per kilo.
“I could go on and on to emphasize the great increment between the money the farmers earn for their hard labor and the cost of food the consumers pay,” he said.
So, how does the incoming DA chief address this?
First, he said, the Department of Agriculture (DA) under the Duterte administration will support the farmers and fisherfolk to ensure that their cost of production is lower and their yield or catch is increased.
Second, there has to be a way to lessen the middlemen’s level of control in determining the buying and selling prices of food commodities.
“This could be done by turning farmers and fishermen into small entrepreneurs themselves giving them direct access to the market,” said Pinol.
“I have brought in an undersecretary, Pompee La Vina, whose expertise is in Entrepreneurial Management and I have tasked him to lift up the poor farmers and fishermen to the level of entrepreneurs who will sell their products directly to the consumers,” he noted.
Pinol cited as an example the rubber farmers who can group themselves and form a company or corporation “which would get involved with the processing of their rubber products and start the manufacturing of bicycle, motorcycle or car and pick tires at the farm level.”
For rice farmers, he said, they could also organize and give them the necessary support “so that they will have their own Rice Processing Centers at the Farm Level.”
The rice farmers could then be linked up with big corporations who could buy the rice directly to be supplied to their employees.
“It is not even remote that I would one day suggest to President Duterte that each government employee be given one sack rice allowance monthly and the rice would be bought directly from farmers groups,” he said.
Pinol said these are just some ways on how to improve farmers income and at the same time make food affordable.
He warned traders who cannot control their greed, “You may end up holding an empty sack.” (PNA)