Urgent Appeal to the National Government: Create Measures to Ease the Economic Impacts of the Health Crisis on Vegetable Farmers

Alyansa Dagiti Mannalon Ti Tiang Kordilyera (APIT-TAKO)

The Cordillera region produces 300,000 to 350,000 MT of temperate-clime vegetables per annum from its 26,000 hectare vegetable belt. This makes one of its provinces, Benguet, to be known as the country’s “salad bowl”. Vegetable producers covers mainly the population in Benguet, Tinoc in Ifugao, Bauko in Mountain Province, and some municipalities in Nueva Vizcaya. Almost 300,000 individuals rely on vegetable farming as their primary source of income.

Selling their produce enables the farmers to have access to cash for their family’s needs such as food, formal education, health care and other services like electricity. If the prices favor the producer, it enables them to pay for debts and loans, to pay for college expenses, to have own means of private transport, and to buy mechanized tools for production. But getting such high prices requires high volume of farm produce to be sold.   

Vegetable farmers shoulders all of the expenses in production which involves high level of input utilization. From seeds to fertilizers and pesticides, a farmer spends at least P3 to P10 for inputs to produce a kilo of vegetable.  To add, hiring extra-labor is needed due to heavy labor efforts especially in the preparation, harvesting, and hauling stages. To be able to deliver the produce to the trading posts, farmers spend no less than P2.50 to P3.50 per kilo.

At the trading post, farm gate prices are wobbly. The farmers take their chances to sell their produce without price protection mechanisms. There are instances that the farmers gain P90 to P200 per kilo but the pricing scheme is too erratic. Most of the time, the farmers gamble with the scheme just to bring back their capital to compensate for the next cropping.

What about the landless farmer? Well, the landless always worry for the land rent. If the farm gate prices surge, the net income will be divided for the payment of loans used for input capital, for land rent, and for the farmer. But if the farm gate prices drop, the landless farmers falls into perpetual indebtedness.

Aside from the high cost of production and the absence of floor price, the farmers also experience exploitation through high loan interests of capital, commissions from traders, and other expenses in trading.  These exactions diminishes the farmers’ income further below. Given these outlays and manipulations by large traders, the price for the farmers’ labor is often left out. 

Today, as CoVid19 spreads throughout the world, the poor and the disempowered sectors including the vegetable farmers are the most vulnerable and this, as well, jeopardizes the country’s major industries.

What about the backbone of the economy?

In the midst of the global health emergency, many farmers are not to be blamed for feeling neglected since the government has failed to design parameters that would supposedly protect agricultural production and trade.

Even before the declaration of the Luzon-wide Enhanced Community Quarantine, farmers had already experienced bankruptcy due to the dipping farm gate prices. Cabbage and wombok price went roughly from P5 to P7 per kilo. Most farmers were “abunado” and needed to apply for loans, even before they take their produce into the trading posts, to compensate their capital for the next cropping.  

The declaration of lockdown tightened vegetable trading. The situation led to the decrease of buyers coming in La Trinidad Trading Post, BAPTC, and NVAT and has slowed down the delivery of vegetables from farms.

While government officials are too busy debating to take over emergency powers and to access to billions-worth of emergency fund, the farmers persist to do their daily grind despite lack of capital and lack of means for their family’s survival. Despite the lockdown, farmers continue to cultivate, plant, and harvest – with hopes that the government would allow them sell their produce to have access to cash to support their very own needs.

The government shall upbeat actions to address the plight of the vegetable farmers and other vulnerable sectors.

Immediate economic relief measures shall be applied not only to the farmers of the Cordillera vegetable belt but also for the whole farming sector. Contingency fund for the farming sector and crop compensation for the unsold and damaged crops shall be allocated. According to Ibon foundation, the government has up to P1.2 Trillion unused and unobligated funds from the 2019 national budget. The government’s allocation for debt servicing, militaristic expenditures, Tokhang, and intelligence funds shall be diverted for the agriculture and health sectors. A crop insurance system must be established to help the farmers, especially the landless, cope up in the time of a market failure prompted by the CoViD19 crisis.

Farming communities shall be included in the prioritization of food and health assistance. Protective measures in prices of farm inputs (e.g. seeds, agrochemicals, organic and synthetic fertilizers, etc.) must be put in place to prevent the surge of prices and to make inputs accessible to both landed and landless farmers. To protect the farmers from the price instability, the government must show its fangs to implement a floor price per kilo of produce sold by farmers. This is to ensure that the farmers maintain their gain and capital for the sustainability of vegetable production amid the battle with the on-going health crisis. Give way for a safe trading not locking down trading facilities, budget allocation for health monitoring from farms to trading posts is a need. Farmers must be given ample space and time to sell their produce, free of parking fee and other exactions in trading posts. The Department of Agriculture, Department of trade and Industry, and the Local Price Coordinating Councils shall strictly implement price freeze for basic goods and farm inputs.

Besides, strengthening the economic spine reinforces the immediate requisites for a nation-wide food assistance program.

For long term solutions, the government shall intervene in the vegetable market and establish price subsidy mechanisms that will ensure reasonable pricing. The government must also ensure the protection of the local vegetable industry from unfair competition imposed by agricultural liberalization and raise import tariffs for foreign products.

Farmers are at the frontline of food security for the country’s holistic defense against CoViD19. The demise of the agriculture sector is the collapse of the nation’s economy – an essential machinery to keep the system going, to energize other industries, to feed the population.

Not even the government knows when and how will this emergency end. Through social solidarity we can safeguard the welfare of the most vulnerable in these time of crisis. ###     

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