Food problem is about access, not production, and this is how Manny Piñol wants to solve it once and for all

(Department of Agriculture Sec. Manny Pinol)

The Philippines has never suffered from food shortage. The country’s problem on food security isn’t related to production but to where and when the produce should be placed.

Department of Agriculture (DA) Emmanuel Piñol calls this the “food-positioning” challenge and considers this as among the country’s biggest problems when it comes to ensuring Filipinos of reliable access to sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.

During an interview with Cesar Chavez in his DZRH program, Damdaming Bayan, the DA chief said this problem — that often causes trader manipulation of marketing margins — could be addressed by the establishment of government-run regional food terminals nationwide.

“(A)ng problema ng Pilipinas hindi ang kakulangan ng pagkain kundi ang masamang positioning ng pagkain, ‘yong access [The problem of the Philippines is not the shortage of food but the bad positioning of food, it’s the access],” Piñol said, as he belied reports that the country was experiencing food shortage amid the National Food Authority (NFA)’s fast-declining rice buffer stock.

READ: ‘MAPAGSAMANTALA’: DA chief Piñol hits ‘abusive’ traders, says PHL not facing rice shortage

The DA chief said “there should be a way” to get rid of the traders and middlemen’s “interference” in the prices of food and  its delivery from the farm to the market.

“There should be a way to stop that and to correct that,” he added.

Piñol said he and President Rodrigo Duterte, even before the latter won in the 2016 national polls, had already “agreed” that the country’s food problem was not about production but how the produce should be directly marketed to consumers so that farmers would adequately earn and stop becoming milking cows of abusive traders and middlemen.

Eto lang naman ang akin…ang punto ko ganito: ‘yong magsasaka ang trabaho n’ya is to produce, bakit pa natin s’ya pahihirapan na magbenta ng kanyang produkto? Papel na dapat ng gobyerno ‘yon. (We should enable) farmers to have access to the market <em>at hindi s’ya ma-agrabyado sa presyuhan</em>,” the DA chief stressed.

[This is my point: the farmers’ job is to produce, so why should we make their lives difficult by making them sell their products? That should already be the role of the government. We should enable farmers to have access to the market where he won’t be put at a disadvantage in terms of pricing.]

“The major motivator in productivity is profitability. Ibig sabihin ‘pag ako farmer, hindi ako kumikita eh walanghiya, ba’t ako magtatanim? [That means that if I’m a farmer, why would I plant if I would not earn?], he added.

How would these regional food terminals operate?

The DA chief said this is how it would be carried out: The farmer delivers his food to the terminal, then he or she will be paid by, say the NFA or “whatever agency will be involved there” and that agency will be responsible in “re-positioning” the produce based on market demands in specific areas.

Halimbawa, isda, marami sa Tawi-Tawi, kulang sa Baguio. Dapat ‘yong gobyerno na magdadala ng isda na ‘yan na sinabmit ng fisherman doon sa regional food terminal na ‘yan at ang logistical support dapat i-provide ng gobyerno,” he explained.

[For instance, fish, there’s a lot of that catch in Tawi-Tawi, but its supply isn’t enough in Baguio. The government should be the one in-charge of transporting the catch of fishers that they brought t the regional food terminal and the government should also be the one providing logistical support.]

“So whatever commodity is produced in excess in these regions will be repositioned,” he added.

How feasible is the DA secretary’s proposal? Piñol said it’s already in the works.

’Yan ay nakasalang,” he said.

“In fact, may mga tinanggap na kaming proposals from foreign companies na sila ang gustong magtayo ng facility [In fact, we had already accepted proposals from foreign companies that like to set up the facility],” the DA chief added.

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