EDITORIAL - Dumping tomatoes, again

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Dumping tomatoes, again

If the government wants to entice people to engage in agriculture, it will have to show that it is a viable livelihood. What the nation is seeing instead are farmers lamenting their losses and tons of produce going to waste because of oversupply.

During harvest time in the past years, the nation has seen farmers dump their tomato produce as farmgate prices plummet. In April this year, the farmgate price of tomatoes dropped to P3 to P5 per kilo amid an oversupply, with farmers in Cagayan Valley and Central Luzon among the hardest hit, according to a Department of Agriculture official.

This has happened again in recent days as prices fell to as low as P5 per kilo, forcing farmers in the Cordillera Administrative Region and Nueva Vizcaya to dump their tomatoes. A report said even if the tomatoes are not yet overripe, market storage space is limited so the older stocks have to make way for fresher harvests, which middlemen naturally prefer.

The proposals of farmers’ groups to deal with such problems are not new. Apart from the obvious need for more cold storage facilities nationwide, they have been pushing for an accurate inventory of agricultural production for a wide range of crops. This shouldn’t prove to be mission impossible; affordable technology is now widely available for this. In countries such as Israel, drones have been used for years for farm production inventories.

Agriculture officials have also been talking for a long time about cutting the number of middlemen for speedier farm-to-market access and possibly greater earnings for producers. The dumping of tomatoes, however, indicates slow progress in this area. The government cannot even identify where overpricing is most likely happening along the value chain. Producers of sugarcane and upland vegetables, for example, have complained recently about low farmgate prices even as retail prices for refined sugar and vegetables such as cabbage have refused to go down.

Apart from improved access to markets, the government can assist marginal farmers in ensuring buyers for their crops. Tomatoes can be processed into a wide range of products starting with sauce and ketchup. Small-scale farmers can be assisted in growing the right varieties under specific environments that processed food manufacturers require for their product quality control.

Local government officials, who are supposed to know more about the economic activities and the needs of farmers in their areas, can take the lead in boosting small-scale agricultural production. Local government units can also help ensure a measure of accuracy in agricultural inventories, and assist the national government in promoting crop rotation. Better agricultural management will not only raise farmers’ income but also stabilize food supply and prices.

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