Gov't urged to ensure protection of fishers, farmers from impacts of COVID-19

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Gov't urged to ensure protection of fishers, farmers from impacts of COVID-19
Early morning sun rises over the small fishing village of Dapdap in Bulakan town.
Philstar.com / Efigenio Christopher Toledo

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights called on the government to ensure that those who put food on people’s tables—farmers and fisherfolk—will receive assistance as the country battles the novel coronavirus.

The quarantine measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus has made it tough for farmers and fishers—among the country’s poorest sectors—to sell their products. The implementation of travel restrictions and curfew schedules also limited their ability to tend to their farms and catch fish.

Arthur Despi, mayor of coastal Bantayan town in Cebu said that demand for fish has gone down with the temporary shutdowns of restaurants and hotels in Cebu City, the region's commercial center.

“Fisherfolks' income has really gone down because demand has dropped,” he said in Filipino in an online forum organized by Oceana Philippines Wednesday.

In a statement Wednesday, the CHR said the coronavirus crisis has exacerbated the already existing inequalities faced by farmers and fishers.

“They are experiencing physical, mental and economic disability, particularly the women fishers in the communities who have the primary task of ensuring food security and safety of the family,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline De Guia said.

Government action needed

CHR urged the government to ensure that social protection schemes are adequate and accessible to the agricultural sector and strengthen policies allowing farmers and fisherfolk to continue their work even during community quarantines.

In the same forum on Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said that farmers and fishers are qualified as beneficiaries of the Department of Social Welfare and Development's social amelioration fund. He said that local governments should assist them in getting on the lists for government cash subsidies.

He said the DA has also made available loans of up to P25,000 at no interest and payable within 10 years.

The government’s coronavirus task force, in a resolution, recognized farmers and fishers as part of the essential sector tasked to keep the nation’s food supply running

Under Resolution No. 15 of the government’s Inter-Agency Task Force on the coronavirus pandemic, farmers and fisherfolks are recognized as part of the essential sector tasked to keep the country’s food supply going. The task force also exempted healthy agricultural workers from quarantine restrictions.

CHR also said that the national government as well as local government units should buy the products of small-scale farmers and fisherfolk to be used for relief operations and mobile markets not only in rural but also urban communities—a practice that is already being done by some municipalities and cities.

[Concerned national agencies must] make sure that appropriate measures are carried out not only to guarantee that food shortages do not happen but to ensure that the vulnerable sector who produce the food is likewise protected,” De Guia said.

'Plant, Plant, Plant'

Under the Department of Agriculture’s ‘Plant, Plant, Plant’ program, P1 billion was committed to the fisheries sector.

“Part of the ‘Plant, Plant, Plant’ is expanding and enhancing the fisheries program and projects toward really upping the game in terms of catch from open seas, coastal communities and aquaculture has to be enhanced to complement whatever we catch from municipal waters and open seas,” Dar said in the Oceana forum

From the requested supplemental budget, P7 billion will be used to increase the procurement fund to buy palay from local farmers, P1 billion for the upscaling of KADIWA mobile markets, P1 billion for production of livestock in corn producing areas and another P1 billion for the increase in the production of meat, chicken and eggs.

The financial assistance for farmers affected by drop in farmgate prices, meanwhile, was allotted P3 billion.

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