Agri chief vows gov’t help in keeping farms afloat
BAGUIO CITY, Benguet, Philippines — The government has assured farmers that it will buy unsold produce so these can be used for public service programs, like feeding projects and in augmenting the food supply of local jails.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar, during a pre-State of the Nation Address roadshow held at the Baguio Convention Center here on Tuesday, said the government would also help farmers turn excess vegetables and other crops into new products, like snacks and jams, through “a food terminal system [that] we will be taking Philippine-wide.”
“Food security is our top priority next to health,” Dar said.
Making the government a major customer for farmers would keep the agriculture industry afloat during the pandemic and help them earn more by eliminating middlemen, said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, who also joined the roadshow.
As chair of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Zero Hunger, Nograles said government attention had been trained toward food security, which is threatened not just by the economic crisis but also by climate change.
These measures address the dumping of crops, following the sustained drop in demand because of quarantine restrictions on movement and the economic downturn.
This practice was first observed in Benguet province last year when Luzon was locked down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Benguet farms grow most of the salad vegetables sold in Metro Manila markets.
Farmers in the Cordillera were forced to throw or dump tons of carrots and other vegetables on mountainsides due to the lack of buyers last year. Their institutional customers, like hotels and big restaurants, were shut down for most of 2020 as a result of community lockdowns and quarantine.
The Department of Agriculture shipped some of the unsold crops to Metro Manila, and delivered them straight to neighborhoods where households were restricted at home.
Toward the end of 2020, an underutilized vegetable trading post was tasked to buy carrots and other crops that were not being shipped to lowland markets, Dar said.
The Benguet Agri Pinoy Trading Center in La Trinidad, Benguet, has been converted into a P40-million food terminal with food processing capabilities, he said. It is one of the 10 food exchange centers put up by former Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala in 2012.
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