Fowl play: PH farmers raise alarm over meat, fish, veggie glut | Inquirer Business
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Fowl play: PH farmers raise alarm over meat, fish, veggie glut

By: - Reporter / @kocampoINQ
/ 04:11 AM April 27, 2020

The slowdown of exports and the temporary closures of restaurants and hotels due to the pandemic have left the country’s agriculture sector with a different kind of crisis: how to offload an overwhelming surplus of meat, vegetables and fish.

Officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) are finding ways to absorb the glut in basic commodities before prices slump to levels that would discourage further production.

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Except for rice, farm-gate prices of meat and certain fruits and vegetables have gone down following the lockdown. This has sharpened the agency’s focus on finding new buyers that could absorb the excessive supply, and they are looking intently at households.

“In the absence of businesses that offer a ready market, we are now looking into more domestic consumption. They may not be able to dine outside, but they still have to eat inside their homes. We can develop these new buying habits and bring our items to the houses as an alternative to the lost markets,” Agriculture Assistant Secretary Kristine Evangelista said.

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But according to Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag), Filipino families are not enough to offset losses from missed export opportunities and could not substitute the industrial use of agricultural products.

“There are no buffet restaurants, hotels, fast foods, or even to-go outlets where you can buy roasted chicken or pork. The industry is really flooded and there’s no way all of these are going to be absorbed by households,” Sinag chairman Rosendo So said.

As of April 24, price monitoring by the United Broilers Raisers Association (Ubra) showed a regular-sized broiler was sold between P58 and P67 a kilo, against the usual production cost between P70 and P75 per kilo.

Pork price is faring relatively better, but only because the African swine fever (ASF) has also cut production. At the peak of the ASF issue in September and October last year, farm gate price was at P55 a kilo from the P160 a kilo pre-crisis level. Pork is now selling at P120 a kilo.

So, whose organization also represents the National Federation of Hog Farmers, said most hog raisers have switched to poultry, thus worsening the glut in avian meat.

In fisheries, those bearing the brunt are the fisherfolk relying on canneries and export markets. Prized seafoods such as squid and grouper (lapu-lapu) are now being sold at almost half the price, or at P250 from P350 a kilo and P180 from P260 a kilo, respectively.

“This is an abnormal situation,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said. “Did anyone want the restaurants to be closed? No, but we have to if we want to curb the number [of new coronavirus disease or COVID-19 cases]. This is why we continue to work with the private sector and the LGUs (local government units) so we can bring these produce to areas that need them the most.”

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Tie-ups with the private sector have become a lifeline for the industry, with conglomerates and small and medium enterprises alike stepping up to link local producers in rural areas to consumers with money to spare.

Ubra president Bong Inciong said the glut has been so severe that backyard raisers were forced to convert broiler eggs into table eggs even though the latter command lower prices. Some farmers have also decided to suspend raising chickens until the pandemic is over.

One idea that has been floated by the agency is for LGUs to distribute fresh produce and reduce reliance on canned goods and instant noodles for their relief packages.

With the “full reopening” of the agriculture sector next month, Dar said the agency was more than ready to address food gaps through its P31-billion “Plant, Plant, Plant” food production program. Federation of Free Farmers national chair Raul Montemayor said “the DA should instead focus its efforts in fixing the distribution problems so that private traders can resume buying from farmers and selling to urban areas … It should also just link farmers with existing supermarkets and outlets, instead of setting up new stores that could inadvertently end up spreading the [new coronavirus],” he added.

Beyond ensuring adequate food supply, Alyansa Agrikultura co-chair and founder Ernie Ordoñez said the government should “identify, measure, monitor and address all supply chain components that span production and demand” if it wanted agricultural front-liners to continue cultivating farms and casting their nets out at sea. INQ

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