Northern Luzon farmers bear brunt of lockdown on livelihood

Ilocos and Cordillera farmers seek immediate help

Ilocos Norte tobacco farmers are seeking immediate assistance from the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) to help tobacco farmers affected by the Enhanced Community Quarantine.

According to Antonio Pugyao, the NTA must assist and provide emergency cash assistance to all tobacco farmers and not only to farmers who are under contract with the Tobacco Contract Growing System (TCGS). There are 6,000 farmers under TCGS but the total tobacco farmers across the country numbers to 32,500. Based on Referendum Resolution No. 002-2020 adopted by the Governing Board of NTA last March 24, 2020, farmers with contracts shall receive an initial amount of P2,000 each under the Emergency Cash Assistance (ECA) program of NTA.

The NTA earlier said that the agency would consider granting ECA to all tobacco farmers. “Lahat naman ay apektado ng lockdown dahil sa COVID19. Lahat ng pamilya ng mga magsasaka ng tabako ay kailangan din kumain. Sana lahat ay mabigyan ng tulong,” (Everyone is affected by the lockdown as precaution to the COVID19. Every farming family has to eat. We hope that everyone will be provided with help and assistance), says peasant leader Antonio Pugyao. He said the tobacco harvesting season peaks during April and farmers already started trading last month but were hampered due to the lockdown.

Tobacco deliveries are exempted from the no-movement policy under ECQ. However, Pugyao said while farmers can still go to their farms and harvest, the absence of public transportation makes it harder for them make an income during the lockdown. “Hindi kami makapunta sa mga tobacco trading centers. May pagkakataon din na hindi talaga pinapayagan makadaan sa checkpoint ang mga magsasaka kahit nag-utos na ang DA at IATF na hindi dapat harangin ang mga magsasaka,” (We cannot go to the trading centers. At times, farmers are being stopped at checkpoints despite numerous clarificatory orders from the DA and IATF allowing the transport of goods and agri crops’), Pugyao said.

Farmers are calling on NTA to increase the emergency cash assistance to P5,000 per tobacco farmer. They are also seeking for production subsidy for their farming.

Cordillera veggie farmers seek compensation for unsold and spoiled crops

Farmers’ group Alyansa Dagiti Mannalon Ti Tiang Kordilyera (APIT-TAKO) also demands the implementation of immediate economic relief measures for farmers of the Cordillera vegetable belt affected by the Luzon lockdown.

Even before the island-wide lockdown started last March 17, prices of highland vegetables drastically dropped, hurting farmers and backyard gardeners producting carrots, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and other veggies.

“We ask the government to compensate farmers for the unsold and damaged crops. Farmers are already experiencing bankruptcy due to the steep drop of veggie farm gate prices. Cabbage and wombok prices are sold from P5 to P7 per kilo while carrots went as low as P1 per kilo. Most farmers took out loans to deliver their produce to trading posts but the declaration of lockdown tightened vegetable trading,” according to Fernando Bagyan of APIT-TAKO.

The lockdown situation led to the decrease of buyers coming to the La Trinidad Trading Post, Benguet Agri-Pinoy Trading Center, and Nueva Vizcaya Agricultural Trading. It also slowed down the delivery of vegetables from farms. As a result, farmers had no choice but to just give away their produce. Tons of veggies were also spoiled because of lack of buyers and strict restriction of mobility since the lockdown started. “Lugi na ang magsasaka, may utang pa” (Farmers are bankrupt and left with nothing but debts),” Bagyan said.

KMP calls on the Department of Agriculture to further itemize the breakdown of support to farmers included in the Php31-billion allocation to DA. ###

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