A NEW, better normal puts food and food producers front and center in the rebuilding of the economy that has collapsed over the COVID-19 pandemic and the failed Administration response to it, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said Sunday.
“Pinakita sa atin ng pandemya at ng mga sumunod na lockdown na mahalaga ang food security, at hindi tayo makakasiguro na may makakain tayo kung hindi matatag sa kanilang kabuhayan ang mga nagpapakain sa atin, ang mga Pilipinong magsasaka at mangingisda (The pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns have shown us that food security is essential and we cannot have food security if our food producers, Filipino farmers and fisher folk, are not secure in their livelihood),” he said.
While all the other sectors like manufacturing and service declined during the pandemic, agriculture was the only bright spot, as it grew from a contraction of 1.4% in the first quarter, to a 0.5% growth in the second quarter. The growth is attributed to higher production of crops and fisheries.
“Ibig sabihin, agriculture is an engine for growth. And our Sagip Saka Law can be used as the framework and the approach to making this happen,” said Pangilinan, principal sponsor of Republic Act 11321 or the Sagip Saka Law.
A key Sagip Saka provision is the direct purchases by local governments and national government agencies from farmers and fisher folk without public bidding and by negotiated contracts.
This is what happened during the lockdown, Pangilinan said. As of the latest announcement by the Department of Agriculture, P6 billion worth of produce and catch have been purchased by LGUs directly from farmers and fisher folk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a Sagip Saka online consultation with the senator in Iloilo and Guimaras last Thursday, Regional Field Office-6 Director Remelyn Recoter enumerated the challenges faced by agriculture in Western Visayas due to the pandemic: production disruption, limited mobility of farm workers due to quarantine rules, bottleneck in transport and logistics of agriculture products, and more difficulty in accessing funds.
Recoter said her office helped address these challenges by providing assistance through different financial aid and direct purchase from farmers and fisher folk — key components of the Sagip Saka Law.
Pangilinan told food growers, agriculture officers, and local government officials during the consultation that in Bayanihan 2, an additional P24 billion has been allotted to the Department of Agriculture to go to direct cash assistance, zero-interest collateral loans, and training programs for farmers and fisher folk.
“We also worked hard sa Bayanihan 1 to make sure na ma-exempt under the law ang ating mga local governments and national government agencies sa Procurement Law when they purchase directly sa farmers and fisherfolk organizations,” Pangilinan said.
These interventions have borne fruit.
Henry Michael Doliguez, farmer and president of San Rafael Irrigators Association in Antique, also shared the success story of his group. With the help of the DA and other agencies, the association has grown from no equipment and lack of manpower and knowledge.
“We started with P124,000 in working capital. Ngayon umabot na kami ng P2.4 million and we plan na pag lumaki pa itong aming income ay ibabalik namin ito sa mga farmers sa pamamagitan ng pagpapautang ng aming mga poultry products at agri supply para maging maginhawa ang buhay ng mga magsasaka,” Doliguez said.
Mayor Macario Napulan of Miag-ao, Iloilo reported that during the pandemic, his municipality bought directly from farmer organizations and paid higher than normal rates. The agriculture products were sold in 11 satellite markets to limit people’s movement due to COVID. These interventions provided food for the people and increased farmers’ incomes.
To further lower the price of goods and increase farmers’ incomes, Pangilinan and Napulan both suggested the use of cold storage facilities to lengthen the consumable life of the crops and seafood.
This way, the community will achieve food security, Pangilinan and Napulan said.
The senator said these interventions should continue to ensure that agriculture would continue to grow so that our food growers would be encouraged to go on planting and fishing, and all Filipinos would have enough nutritious food to eat.
“That will also be the incentive of the farmers to plant more because they know their produce will last more months with cold storage. Hindi mabubulukan, at makakatanim ng mas marami. ‘Pag mas marami ang tanim, mas mababa ang presyo. Pero volume na yon. At kapag mas mababa ang presyo sa retail, may food for everybody. Food secure na ‘yon,” Pangilinan said.