Almost everyday, we read about food shortages in the papers and social media. Bureaucrats in the Department of Agriculture and supposed experts in the House and Senate are busy mouthing complaints and lamentations about how prices have risen, as if they are affected by them considering they have all the funds to buy all these, and how the ranks of the poor keep widening by the day.
Eight months since President Marcos opted to keep the DA post to himself, nothing has been done but simple mouthing of policy changes (with no accompanying implementation) thus nothing has changed. Things even worsened because there seems to be nothing being done to solve the supply gaps—except for state-sanctioned smuggling and importation of several commodities—to the detriment of farmers who can’t compete with the imported products. And mind you, those imports are not even bringing down prices at the retail markets, obviously because the prices are dictated by the cartel, hence consumers do not benefit from supposedly low-priced imports.
What we see are occasional announced ‘raids’ of warehouses by the Departments of Trade and Industry and Agriculture, which were forced to increase the SRPs of commodities after serious closure threats by manufacturers and protests by farmers.
With limited supply of market produce, rampant smuggling of agricultural products at seaports and even NAIA are almost unstoppable even after Customs officials raided warehouses and filed charges against consignees. The consuming public remain at the mercy of cartels, price manipulators, hoarders and “hoodlum middlemen,” who control supply and prices, “untouched” by government regulators, said columnist Jake Maderazo of Inquirer.
Since the 1960’s and even up to 2010s, food security deteriorated because of fumbling policies of different administrations, which all failed to modernize farms whether crops, livestock, poultry, or fisheries. Attempts to increase the yearly government budget were just “stolen” methodically by political kleptocrats via their grandiose but doomed projects. So when you see “politicians” making noise at the annual DA budget, this is not to improve the lives of farmers, but in reality, to substantially increase their “pork barrel,” Maderazo said.
Sixty years ago, and until today, government’s agriculture and food related agencies still need to talk about better coordination. This is worse in the regional and LGU sectors. Government’s right hand still does not know what its left hand is doing. Actual financial assistance for modernizing small farmers and fishers is remains hanging through the years. Clearly, there was never a serious attempt to fix and modernize the whole agriculture situation in past decades even up to now.
To remedy the situation, government must allow all imported food to enter the country if they pay the right amount of tariff. A portion of that tariff must automatically go to the affected farmers’ group with the intent of modernizing their business. Maderazo said onion, garlic or sugar, vegetable, fisherfolk, poultry or livestock must each get their own “Competitive Enhancement Fund” from these tariff revenues, to be used for farm mechanization, seed development, propagation and promotion, credit assistance and extension services.
Naturally at first, the farmers will be no match to the prices of imported products but with excess tariffs directly helping them, they are given the chance to improve and make their businesses competitive, as shown by the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund that effectively stopped smuggling.
Some economists insist our problem are self-inflicted, comparing our dire situation with other prosperous ASEAN neighbors.