Disconnect between policy and practice | Inquirer Business
Commentary

Disconnect between policy and practice

There is a disconnect between agriculture policy and certain local government unit (LGU) (including barangay) practices. If this is not corrected, the extension of the Luzon enhanced community quarantine will result in serious damage. Agriculture policy pronouncements on coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are not being implemented by some LGUs. This jeopardizes food security and availability, and decreases farmer and fisherfolk incomes.

Our recommendations are based in two important Group Viber and Zoom meetings last April 6 and 7 . These were between the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the five coalitions of the Agri Fisheries Alliance. They represented farmers, fisherfolk and producers (AA), agribusiness (PCAFI), science and academe (CAMP), rural women (PKKK), and multisectors (AF2025).

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What is the agriculture policy on COVID-19? Two wise measures recommended by Agriculture Secretary William Dar were approved on March 24: (1) Allow all farming and fishing activities to continue and (2) Reite­rate unhampered movement of all supplies used for agriculture, including food packaging and manufacturing materials. What is happening on the ground? Though much has been done to the credit of Interior Secretary Eduardo Año and Philippine National Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar (PNP hotlines 0908-8490013 and 0917-5382495), there are still violations that block the movement of agriculture pro­ducts and personnel. These contradict the two policy measures identified above.

For example, PCAFI’s Danny Fausto and AF2025’s Philip Young said plants were operating at only 25 percent of capacity. AA’s Arsenio Tanchuling and Ubra’s Bong Inciong say that blocking the demand and supply of agriculture products threaten a collapse in their sectors. This will take seve­ral months to recover.

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Very limited marketing time dampens demand and encou­rages crowding, which violates the social distancing requirement. Curfew and too restrictive hours prevent fisherfolk from fishing at night and selling their produce. Barangay checkpoints with unreasonable demands prevent not only movement of goods but also prevent workers who have to cross barangays from going to their work pla­ces. There was a report that a food processing plant with 400 workers had only 50 coming because many had to cross barangays that did not allow them to pass. This has been corrected by Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), but violations are still plentiful. In countries like Singapore, public transportation is allowed but strictly limited, where exceptions are made for food and medicine.

This brings us to our main recommendation. The government is doing a commendable job with national policies and programs. But the main action happens in the municipalities and barangays, which are under local officials. These officials must understand how their local implementation might be contradicting the national agriculture policy.

Just as the Inter-Agenct Task Force has mobilized the Department of Trade and Industry-supervised Municipal Price Coordinating Councils to stabilize prices, even more important are the legally mandated DA-supervised Municipal Agriculture and Fisheries Councils. They should recommend measures to facilitate the food supply chain, while creatively formulating virus containment measures.

We need to cure our virus victims but we also need to feed our people. The solution is for agriculture stakeholders to engage the misinformed LGUs who should follow agriculture policy. If there is no response, reports can be given to DILG hotline 1555 or 02894-COVID for immediate action, and inform DA Undersecretary Ching Caballero (0908-8121521) for teamwork purposes.

The mayors, who also supervise the barangay captains where most misunderstan­dings occur, should be the main champions for this effort. But the agriculture stakeholders have the obligation to inform them. This will then eliminate the disconnect between policy and practice that will enable us to minimize virus victims, as well as ensure food security and availability.

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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TAGS: agriculture policy, coronavirus disease (COVID-19), enhanced community quarantine, local government unit (LGU)
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