Farmers, fisherfolk also COVID-19 front-liners
While our health workers are our recognized front-liners in addressing COVID-19, farmers and fisherfolk are also front-liners. This is because they produce the food we need to survive. With healthy food, our immune systems become stronger. This prevents the coronavirus from causing a more widespread impact, which will burden further our limited health workers and facilities.
To address the perceived inadequate attention to this sector, 10 national farmer organizations sent a letter with key recommendations to the Cabinet-level Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases. It is called the Bayanihan sa Agrikultura Laban sa COVID-19, coordinated by Maria Fatima Villena (0977-3561743).
“We are concerned about the plights of our farmers/producers as they are mostly in their senior years. With the current travel restrictions and limited access to markets, we aim to forge concrete initiatives on the ground and offer concrete policy suggestions to support urban communities’ needs for healthy and fresh food, while at the same time support rural-based communities’ needs for added resources,” the letter stated.
Among the recommendations are:
1. Allow small farming families to continue working in their farms. But information must reach them effectively on physical distancing and other COVID-19 mitigating measures. Also, the rural health units must prioritize delivery systems to address their health risks, and not treat them with less significance than those with better political connections.
2. Call on local government units to source the food baskets preferably from locally produced community social enterprises under a more flexible and relaxed procurement procedure to enable this to happen.
3. Promote producer-to-consumer and producer-to-market programs (possibly with “bagsakan” centers, for higher prices to farmers and lower prices to consumers, as well as avoid congestion and travel restriction difficulties).
4. Allow National Food Authority to take necessary temporary measures to stabilize the price and supply of rice, especially now that rice farmers have lost half their income from the recent Rice Tariffication Law, and the April palay harvest is at hand.
More importantly, the bigger picture should immediately address the current supply and value chain of agriculture. During this time of supply shortage and value chain disruption, we must take this opportunity to take strategic look at agriculture products from the source to the consumer. This should be done soon, which Agriculture Secretary William Dar is advocating.
From the source point of view, are we producing our food with the proper support mechanisms that other countries provide their farmers, so that we can compete effectively with imported products and raw materials? Can we consolidate and use economies of scale for production and marketing? And since we are in a global environment, are we using the international trade laws to our advantage and fighting smuggling, instead of us being victims of unfair trade practices from other countries which is happening now?
Last week, there was a recommendation from the Management Association of the Philippines’ committee on trade and investment that we need a public-private presidential task force on supply management, especially during this crisis with its numerous disruptions. This is supported by Alyansa Agrikultura, with 32 federations and organizations from all the major agriculture and fisheries sectors.
This task force would look at both industrial and agricultural products, especially food. Like the IATF, its members should meet daily in a “war room” that records the supply chain movements of critical commodities.
Our farmer and fisherfolk front-liners are focused on production. But without an effective supply chain, the objective of healthy food for our consumers will not be achieved. We need both the farmer and fisherfolk front-liners for strong immune systems and the health worker front-liners to cure the affected virus victims. For this teamwork to effectively become a reality, we immediately need a presidential public-private task force on supply chain management to win our battle against this deadly coronavirus.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential Programs and Projects and former undersecretary of Agriculture and Trade and Industry. Contact him via [email protected]
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