Bernardo M. Villegas
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My Addenda to the SONA (Part 2)

             The President rightly gave the highest importance to providing the small farmers with the appropriate inputs such fertilizers, pesticides, seedlings, feeds, fuel subsidy and assistance to the deserving beneficiaries to solve the short-term problem of increasing food supply in the short-term, given the world-wide crisis of food shortage world-wide caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  The small farmers should be the first ones to be helped to contribute to food security.  To complement the efforts of the farmers, however, there should be a nation-wide campaign to involve non-farmers, especially in the urban areas closest to the huge consumer markets for food, to use the appropriate technology and skills to grow a variety of high-value crops on empty lots and even buildings.  Like what happened during World War II in the U.S., 18 million Americans contributed 30% of the requirements for vegetables and other fast-growing food crops by planting in the so-called Victory gardens.  The Department of Agriculture should partner with large, medium, and small enterprises to mobilize what have been termed “Plantitos” and “Plantitas” to at least temporarily increase significantly the food supply coming from urban gardens.  Although many of these agricultural initiatives may not be sustainable in the long run (most of them would eventually just be hobbies and planted to flowers, herbs and non-essential food products), a good number may actually turn out to be profitable small agricultural enterprises.

            The President, appropriately speaking in Tagalog because his intended audience comprised the small farmers, further suggested that in the long run the objective is to strengthen the value chain from the farm to the final consumer.  In this regard, there should be significant efforts of the appropriate government agencies like the Department of Trade and Industry, and the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the Department of Transportation to promote a lot of private investments in warehouses, cold storage, seaports, food terminals and other logistical infrastructures. I hope to see during the term of President Marcos Jr. the complete disappearance, especially in his own province of Ilocos Norte, of the practice of palay farmers drying their grain on the cemented road in front of their farms.  Grain driers were part of Industrial Revolution 1.0 two centuries ago!

            In his address to farmers and fisherfolks, the President made much of scientific research (“gagamitan ng siyensiya para tumaas and produksyong agricultural.”)  Let us recall that we had some of the most advanced research centers like the IRRI in Los Banos for rice and SEAFDEC for aquaculture in Iloilo) which made little difference in improving the productivity of our farmers and fisherfolks.  At this stage of our trying to catch up with our neighbors like Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam in food productivity, let us not reinvent the wheel.  Let us, through close partnerships with the appropriate countries, transfer capital and technology from such agribusiness power houses like Taiwan, Israel, Thailand, and Malaysia.  Let us swallow our pride and admit that we can learn many agribusiness lessons from Vietnam that just two years ago still was behind us in per capita income.  Vietnam can teach our farmers many useful lessons in growing coffee and such high-value aquacultural products like pangasius, shrimps, tilapia, bivalves and marine fishes such as cobia, seabass and gouper.  This need to learn from the success stories of our neighbors in improving agricultural productivity is another strong reason for us to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

            The President also made a strong statement about continuing the agrarian reform program.  First, we have to remind him that the law on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) expired long ago in 2014.  The focus of agrarian reform should no longer be more fragmentation but the contrary, i.e. consolidation.  It is laudable that the present Administration intends to condone the loans of agrarian reform beneficiaries with unpaid amortization and interest.  It is also good news that agrarian reform beneficiaries who are still to receive their awarded land under the CARP shall receive it without any obligation to pay any amortization.  The challenge, however, is how to make the piece of land owned by each beneficiary productive.  The answer is to help the small farmers reconsolidate their farms in to larger units to reach the economies of scale necessary for increased productivity through mechanization and other appropriate advanced technologies.  This reconsolidation, especially in the coconut industry, can be done through alternative models, i.e., cooperatives, nucleus estate like the FELDA and FELCRA of Malaysia, other other ways through which the small land owners lease their land to a large corporation such as a Dole or Del Monte in the Philippines or Sime Darby or Guthrie in Malaysia for the corporate organization to assist the farmers in improving their productivity through more modern technology, financing their inputs, purchasing their products and processing their products to come out with high-value consumer goods.  For example, in the coconut industry, instead of selling copra or coconut oil, the products should be coconut water, coconut sugar, coconut milk, nata de coco, coir and many other by-products of coconuts that have much higher values than copra or coconut oil. 

            The reference to the Kadiwa Centers reminds me of a paper I received from a major meat dealer about an inclusive approach to solving the current pork supply crisis owing to the African Swine Fever (ASF) compounded by the shortage of feed products resulting from the war in Ukraine, a major source of animal feeds.  Following the example of the President who gave both short-term and long-term solutions, North Star Meat Merchants suggests as short-term solutions  using the tariffs on imported pork to assist the smaller local producers to repopulate and improve their stocks and to tighten the regulation of the operations of slaughter houses which can be high-risk areas for the spread of animal diseases.  By clamping down on illegal slaughter facilities and strictly enforcing proper slaughter protocols, the Department of Agriculture can prevent the spread of animal diseases and guarantee food safety.  Many small farms that have been hit with the ASF typically go to illegal and unsupervised slaughterhouses so that they can immediately sell their hogs before the regulators can track down the source of the disease.  This practice has been playing a major role in the spread of ASF.  A third short-term solution consists in having the large retailers like North Star purchase hogs from small farmers and cooperatives accredited by the Department of Agriculture.  Finally, and this is where the suggestion that appears in the SONA comes in.  In order to provide especially the low-income households access to clean, compliant and affordable meat products, KADIWA stores can be used to ensure that consumers will immediately enjoy the lower price of pork.  Most retailing companies such as North Star can take care of the distribution of meat products by professionally setting up and operating KADIWA stores, while other suppliers, farmers and cooperatives can co-sell other items such as rice, vegetables, and fruits in the same venues.  This would respond to the promise of the President in his SONA to improve the value chain from the producer to the final consumer.

            Among the long-term solutions suggested by North Star Meat is the establishment of a communal farming model among the small hog raisers.  Through communal farming, the Department of Agriculture can effectively educate, supervise, subsidize and scale the production of the small producers.  On their part, the large commercial farms and feed companies can engage in contract farming and buying agreements with the communal farming participants while continuously helping to upgrade the latter’s farm production methodologies through technology transfer and training.  The joint efforts of the Government and the private business sector can enable and motivate the small farmers and cooperatives to participate in the more technologically advanced methods of production of hogs.  The access to proper feed, genetics, and housing technology and the assurance of a steady market will result in an improved local farming ecosystem.  This will not only lead to the rebound of the hog population in the country but also to the securing of the industry from occurrences of animal diseases.  This specific case of the hog industry illustrates very clearly how the cooperation of the private sector is indispensable in the attainment of the good intentions marked by the President in his SONA.  As he himself said, he cannot do it alone.  To be continued.