Group throws support to gov’t’s food program; initiates summit

With the seeming shortage on rice and other agricultural products, aggravated by the highest inflation in years, a multi-sectoral group is organizing a food summit in support of the government’s food program.

According to Jerry Pelayo, former mayor of Candaba, Pampanga, one of the lead convenors of the Filipino Sama Ka Dito, the summit their group’s way of throwing support to the government as it strives to address the issue of rice shortage and rising prices of basic commodities.

“This is not the time for criticising nor blaming one another. It won’t do us any good. This is the time to unite behind the government as it faces head on the scourge of rice shortage and rising prices,” said Pelayo, who was responsible for the radical Farm-Fresh 25, inside the Clark Economic Zone (“25” because the farm produce is sold at 25 percent less than outside), which is managed by not by traders but by farmers and duck and poultry raisers.

Farm-Fresh 25 has been in existence for 14 years.

Aside from Pelayo, the other members of the convenor group are former Agriculture Secretary William Dar and UP Chancellor Ray Velasco,

Honorio Soriano, Jr., president of Pampanga State Agricultural University, has opened the campus facilities for the event slated tentatively for the third week of October.

“The government, under President Rodrigo Duterte, has plenty of good managers and people at the helm, especially on the agriculture front, but they need the support of everyone and not the unnecessary criticisms from those with political interests out to exploit these problems,” Pelayo added.

According to the former mayor, they are targeting the participations of all those who have stake in agriculture and aquaculture including those involved in deep sea and fresh water fishing, piggery and poultry raising, vegetable farming, rice and cereal farming, traders and even the academe, particularly the state agricultural colleges.

“There have been summits like this conducted before but the academe had never participated. We need them as we try to address the problems of the farmers and the fisher folks,” said Pelayo.

While the common problem for farmers are flooding and landslide, the more pressing ones are the availability of machineries and equipment and the lack of fund, thus the tendency for them to fall to loan sharks as some farmers are prone to mortgage future harvests for extravagant fiesta celebrations and even to fund their vices like cockfighting.

“We need to educate them with management skills,” he said.

According to Pelayo, the agricultural sector had not been wanting in government support as presidents after presidents have been providing them with subsidies.

“The problem is how were these fund managed,” Pelayo pointed out.

During the time of former President Ferdinand Marcos, the government initiated a program dubbed as Masagana 99, which was then successful in increasing rice production. This however, was not sustained after a change of government occurred in 1986.

“Even then, the government continues to subsidise our agricultural sector through cooperatives pouring in billions of pesos year in and year out. There’s the subsidy for fertilizer, pesticide and seedlings,” said Pelayo.

“The government acquires tractors, harvesters and other equipment for the use of our farmers, but where are they now? Sold to private businessmen by those who are in-charge of the equipment, or leased to other individuals outside of the cooperative?” he said.

“Where are these equipment now? And where’s the output?” he asked.

“We need to eliminate corruption in the agricultural sector,” he stressed.

Pelayo said that with the billions of pesos of subsidy poured into agriculture and the unique geographical position of the Philippines, the country should have been a major producer of agricultural products by now.

“We are a tropical country blessed with the most suitable weather for agriculture as we only have summer and rainy season and no winter like some countries and we could exploit these condition to further enhance our agriculture,” said Pelayo.

Pelayo suggested that the government consider the idea of increasing the fund for purchasing palay and increase its buying price for palay to compete with private traders, starting with utilizing the barangays as buying stations.

“The government needs to be competitive in buying palay from the farmers as failure to do so would only result to the private traders controlling the rice trade,” he said.

The Filipino Sama Ka Dito convenor added the government should also educate farmers and others involved in the agriculture and aquaculture industry on the effects of climate change, tunnel vents and greenhouses effect on hog-raising, provide facilities for processing and cold storage for hog, poultry and duck raisers, and feed mill support for those in the aquaculture sector. –JOEL P. MAPILES

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