City dwellers are mocking Agriculture Secretary William Dar. As global food crisis looms, he exhorted Filipinos, including urbanites, to plant, fish, and raise animals.
Cosmopolites are adept in trades and professions, but inexpert in farming, aquaculture and livestock. They live in cramped shanties or high-rises. Most cities forbid backyard raising of food animals. “Where will I grow my favorite foods — shrimp and pork?” quipped a broadcaster.
The only farmers, fish and animal raisers in cities are those who fled rural penury. They’ve turned to odd jobs. Wives work as housemaids.
Dar’s four years of agricultural over-importing drove them out of work. Smuggling of grains, vegetables, fruits, fish, pork and poultry further worsened their plight. National and local governments took too long to help them rebuild homes, farms, fish pens, boats and barns wrecked by typhoons. The average age of Filipino farmers is 60.
Dar attributes the impending food shortage to the pandemic, the Ukraine war and surging oil prices. COVID-19 stunted global trade, including of farm machineries, animal feeds and ingredients, aquaculture and fishing implements.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine led to fertilizer shortage worldwide. Fertilizer’s main component is nitrogen derived from natural gas, of which Ukraine is among the largest producers. With Ukrainian gas fields idled, farmers around the world hoarded what’s left.
War delayed the planting of wheat, of which Ukraine again and surrounding countries are the main producers. The UN forecasts a global shortage. People will shift to other staple grains, primarily rice. Rich countries will buy up stocks from India and Southeast Asia. Poor Philippines will be elbowed out of the queue. ASEAN friends will be unable to help. Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar, the usual rice suppliers to the Philippines, are suffering reduced harvests. Thirteen dams in China divert water from the Mekong River, shrinking farm and fishpond output in the delta and other plains downstream.
Fertilizer rates in the Philippines already doubled before the pandemic. Hardly any help came from the government. The Ukraine war further pushed up prices. Still no action. The Rice Tarrification Law of 2019 failed to bring down prices to pre-2016 levels, the Federation of Free Farmers laments.
When African Swine Fever struck Luzon, Dar massively imported pork but at reduced tariff. Ignored were hog-raisers who needed the collections to cover their costs of replacing diseased stocks. When poultry prices rose due to expensive feeds and electricity, Dar massively imported chicken, again at low duties. Domestic growers suffered.
At the onset of the 2021 yearend fishing ban, Dar insisted on importing fish from China, hundreds of thousands of tons. Opposition from commercial fleet owners, artisanal fishermen and fish growers was ignored. Pens and ponds were brimming with tilapia and bangus good for seven months. When super typhoon Odette hit the Visayas and Mindanao in the first quarter of 2022, Dar again imported more fish from China, supposedly “to increase production.” No one thought of helping fisherfolk repair broken bancas.
Vegetable smuggling from China demoralized local growers. They had to throw away millions of kilos of produce because of the unfair competition and costly transportation. In the ensuing Senate investigative hearings, all snubbed by Dar, he was revealed to be applying for reappointment in the next administration. He now hails as doable that next admins’ promise of PhP20-rice, something he never achieved to begin with.
Filipinos suffered rice shortage in the early years of martial law, 1973-74. Rich and poor queued to buy stocks mixed with ground corn. To avert a repeat, Dar wants to increase the National Food Authority buffer stocks from seven to 30 days. Good idea. A city boy planting rice in his living room would take a hundred days to harvest.
Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday.
This article is published with permission from the author. The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.