Help our farmers sell
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - October 12, 2018 - 12:00am

The picture of tons and tons of locally grown tomatoes dumped by farmers in Laguna in a waste dumpsite was very troubling. For one, the farmers toiled to grow those tomatoes and now they get nothing for their effort.

For another, the price of tomatoes in Metro Manila markets is still rather high and those tomatoes may have been able to dampen the price somewhat. Laguna, after all, is next door to Metro Manila, not in Mindanao.

According to a story on abs-cbnnews.com, the farmers lost as much as P4 million because of a supposed oversupply bringing down the farm gate price to P2.50 to P5 a kilo depending on size. But when I checked the price at Unimart Capitol Commons, the price of local tomato is P71 a kilo.

The usual traders who buy from Laguna farmers and sell at Divisoria and Balintawak were reported to have returned the smaller tomatoes to the farmers. They claim the tomatoes were unsalable. I get the feeling the traders were just abusing the farmers who have nowhere else to go.

I suppose the farmers figured they have nothing more to lose and decided to keep their pride by dumping their produce instead. That deprived the traders of the opportunity to make their unholy profits at their expense.

If the tomatoes were grown in Mindanao or the Visayas, I can understand how difficult it is to bring the produce to Metro Manila. This is why when Berna Romulo-Puyat was still at the Department of Agriculture, she helped farmers get their produce to Manila with the help of the Air Force.

I understand that they are still doing that these days and the low priced produce are sold out at the San Andres Market in a matter of minutes. But this is not sustainable because Air Force planes are not always available or have other missions.

I like what Rep. Arthur Yap did when he was secretary of agriculture. He had a program to set up Barangay Food Terminals (BFT) and bagsakan, or drop-off centers, in Metro Manila to cushion the effects of rising prices on Filipino consumers.

This program probably produces strong positive impact that could be felt right away by the grassroots. It addresses the twin problems of low farm gate prices for farm produce and high retail prices of basic foodstuff in the urban areas.

As I wrote in my column last Jan. 16, 2008, Rep. Art had put on his thinking cap as a businessman and he determined the missing link in the supply chain. This is the role traditionally played by the notorious middlemen who abuse both farmers and consumers in the process of bringing foodstuff from the farm to our dinner tables.

By addressing the need to increase farm incomes and decrease food costs of urban dwellers, Yap had hit two birds with one bagsakan.

The Barangay Food Terminals (BFTs) is a project involving direct marketing of fresh agricultural and fishery food products from food producers to the BFT for sale at a price lower than the prevailing wholesale and retail prices in the market. The basic food commodities include fish, chicken, meat, fruits and vegetables.

An important role of the agriculture department here is the provision of credit. They help growers/producers who supply agricultural and fishery products to the BFTs and Bagsakan Centers in Mega Manila and in the regions obtain credit with a loan facility at eight percent per annum interest rate so they can buy refrigerated or delivery trucks through the Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC).

On the other hand, the agri department, through the National Agribusiness Corp. (NABCOR) and the Bureau of Postharvest Research and Extension (BPRE), provides chest freezers and vegetable chillers including plastic crates to BFTs for free.

Before he exited as agriculture secretary, I recall Rep. Art telling me his plan to put up cold storage facilities in strategic locations all over the country. Farmers can store their produce there and get the ability to say no to traders who quote a low farm gate price.

The reactions of some of my Facebook friends when I reposted the abs-cbn news report are typical of those who instinctively use their brains to solve a problem.

Lito Madrasto, a construction industry veteran, confirmed that in his hometown in Laguna, “the individual farmers are forced to deal with the traders because they don’t have the means to go direct to the market. They lack the connections to the retailers and food manufacturers. This is where the government has been failing the farmers.”

A US-based Filipino commented: “Logistics companies could (and some now do) tap this as another market since often their trucks return to Manila empty. More than the actual ‘connections’ to retailers it’s a logistics problem.

“Plus it isn’t prohibitively expensive to equip trucks with refrigeration and collapsible containers to reduce spoilage. This could pull the rug from under traders who are effectively swindlers.”

Arnel Casanova, who was formerly CEO of BCDA agreed: “This is the reason why I invited the Rungis Market of Paris to set up the food logistics hub in Clark Green City…

“Our farmers are being shortchanged by middlemen. If there will be a global food logistics hub in Clark such as the Rungis Market, they have direct access to the market and other needed facilities and even investments. Before my term ended, I even wrote Sec. Piñol about it.”

Our officials are scurrying around like headless chickens because of a rather high food inflation rate that’s threatening to become a hot election issue. But they need not re-invent the wheel.

Art Yap had the same problem during his watch and he started something that should work. They could dust off and resurrect the project. Farm to market logistics is a problem we can now solve, if we want to.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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