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CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2021 - 12:00am

“Damned If you Do – Damned If you Don’t” and nothing is achieved. This is how I see our current situation with the high prices of pork, chicken, fish and vegetables. I fully appreciate the lamentation of the Philippine population who has been forced to drastically reduce their purchases of those food items because most of the meat and vegetables are now beyond the buying power of many Filipinos. As a result the Department of Agriculture and Malacañang are now forced to issue an executive order that will probably fix the price of consumable products, specifically pork and chicken meat. If the price of pork goes down from P400 down to P275, consumers will certainly be the direct winner and the President, the collateral beneficiary of goodwill.

I have long been a volunteer lecturer-endorser for BMeg Premium feeds traveling all over the country talking about the various aspects of hog raising such as bio security, nutrition and genetic stock. Even before COVID-19 two facts stood out: the local supply did not meet the total local demand and there was already ASF wiping out piggeries and herds all over the world. There was a pre-existing shortage and the spread of ASF insured that we will have a huge shortage that even diversion of local stock or importation can’t solve because regionally and globally the demand outweighs the supply. I suspect that the initial gain from price fixing or control will end up as a political zero sum game because it is based on taking away from one sector in order to bless the other, but with the big risk of hurting both sides in the long term if many farmers or producers decide to quit the game and shift to other products because the gains are too small versus the risks that are too high. Remember we are talking about a disease that wipes out flocks or herds in days! I lost 80 heads in a month and got shut down permanently; others who lost thousands of pigs in less time than mine are now bankrupt.

Right now many hog raisers and poultry farmers are sticking it out in the game because of the high prices and better revenues. In spite of ASF, many would say that it’s all worth the risk of raising more and more hogs for bigger profits even if there is a risk that ASF could visit a farm and hit it “One time big time!” In case you don’t know it, all commercial vendors of hogs are required to get an independent laboratory test and certificate for ASF for every pig they sell. I was told that the test/certificate for five heads was around P3,500 and for the average 30 heads per truck load the test/certificate would be P21,000+. Every truck is now required to make different stops at every barangay or town or city that truckers pass through because of ASF bio security. Each stop adds to the travel time, consumption and compensation of the drivers and their team and all that goes into the cost of each pig. Add to that the new costs for bio security and equipment and chemicals.

In other words, the cost to operate and sell hogs per head has increased considerably. It is not a simple matter of shortage of supply. The fact that prices have not gone down even when the Department of Agriculture diverted supplies to Metro Manila tells us that the inherent and current cost of production have simply gone up. It only follows that care for animals, particularly pigs and chickens, will also go up because they are threatened with the deadly ASF virus and the Avian Influenza.

Let us not over simplify the problem by saying it’s “over pricing” or “shortage.” Instead of taking away profit from the producer/farmer, the government should seriously embark on a national plan and program to rebuild our domestic livestock industry while designing and funding an economic stimulus package or reimbursement program or guarantee for producers.

Instead of just price control, the DA and DTI and DOF should find a way where farmers/producers sell their products at government set prices in exchange for an economic cash stimulus or bundle of goods and services such as access to high quality breeding material or stock, AI or artificial insemination services or products, discount offers for equipment, even tax free status or exemption from income tax. With the help of the DENR, the DA can also identify government lands that can be leased out to farmers for crops, vegetables and livestock.

The government should also work with or cooperate with agencies such as the ITCPH or BMeg feeds because there is a very serious need and embarrassing lack in terms of education and training for livestock and poultry production. Sorry, Google and YouTube are great but nothing beats industrial experience and I personally got that from both organizations.

All of these projects and ideas are justifiable under the umbrella of “National Food Security” and economic stability, and indirectly will create a new direction for consumer spending instead of using it all up on expensive food. If we launch an honest to goodness barangay-based livestock development program, create barangay-based markets or shops and freeze the artificial urbanization strategies of LGUs that only want higher taxes or IRA, we could give agricultural production a boost and create a situation where price control is unnecessary and shortages and importation all become a thing of the past.

“I have a dream,” said Dr. Martin Luther King and his dream came to pass. Let’s make rebuilding the livestock industry our goal and stop day dreaming. Let’s Do It!

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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