Tired and going bankrupt, agri workers persevere to feed recession-hit PH
As the new coronavirus disase delivered an indiscriminate blow to most businesses that forced some establishments to shut down, the country’s farmers and fisherfolk have been hard at work producing food supplies.
But they are doing so amid a climate of uncertainty and fear, with some industry stakeholders ready to raise the white flag as the country’s economy plunged into its worst recession in 40 years.
Gregorio San Diego Jr., United Broilers Raisers Association (Ubra) chair, noted the rising number of poultry farms being foreclosed by banks, while Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines Inc. president Edwin Cheng said hog raisers in Visayas and Mindanao continued to bleed financially as demand for pork continued to stagnate.
Without proper incentives and as imports continue to come in, the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) and the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) said it might be impossible for local food producers to heed the government’s call to increase food supply this year by 2 percent.
They added increasing supply without adequate cold-storage facilities in place could worsen the distressingly normal cycle of farmers throwing away crops season after season.
Compared to rice farmers, which have seen an improvement in both prices and supply in the staple, other subsectors in agriculture are not faring as well.
Between April and June, the output and prices of livestock and poultry declined and groups are expecting the downward trend to continue. Fisheries production increased by 0.2 percent but its value also decreased by 2.6 percent.
“The major incentive for farmers to produce is the price. You will not continue to operate if you will continue to lose. If you think about it, 2 percent is only a small number but the sector has been really slow. We see intervening factors like weather, and now, there is COVID-19 … Until now, even with the pandemic, we are still competing with imports,” FFF national chair Raul Montemayor said.
Ubra president Bong Inciong added the continuous entry of imported agricultural goods would eventually lead to the local industry’s demise, noting that local raisers cannot compete with heavily subsidized goods from overseas especially at uncertain times like this.
“The agriculture industry has been in recession for so long,” Sinag chair Rosendo So said. “Not unless we improve government support, we lessen production costs and we regulate imports, the government’s targets would just be empty statistics.”
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the agriculture industry would need to grow by at least 2 percent every year to keep up with the country’s population expansion rate, which continues to balloon at 1.7 percent yearly.
But for this year, the sector ended the first semester with a contraction of 0.35 percent. Despite the stakeholders’ reservations, Agriculture Secretary William Dar remained optimistic.
The agriculture chief was promised by lawmakers and the President of a bigger budget allocation, although money would not come until next year.
“The President already said that agriculture is one of the keys to rebooting the economy … while the livestock and poultry industries are really adversely affected, we are positive that we will be able to turn things around by adding logistics centers,” he said.
Despite the economic meltdown, Dar added the agency “will continue to work with all stakeholders to improve the sector, and ensure that there would be enough supply of food for everyone.”
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