HomeCommentaryTransport obstacles push up food prices

Transport obstacles push up food prices

Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban should not have slammed farmers for inability to transport to market. It’s not their fault.

Garlic prices at the grocery store shocked environment lawyer Virginia Suarez: PhP400 a kilogram from Ilocos, PhP150 a kilo from China.

“How can local produce be PhP250 more per kilo than imported?” she ranted online. “Aren’t imports slapped with duties, collections of which should be used to assist farmers and consumers, say, in distribution? It’s hard enough to plant, yet farmers are blamed for not thinking of the market.”

Twenty-five tons of garlic from Itbayat in Batanes could not be shipped to Cagayan in mainland Luzon. Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban should not have slammed farmers for inability to transport to market. It’s not their fault.

Itbayat has no modern port, only a crude landing carved from the cliff. Bulk cargo ships must anchor far off. Tedious manual loading is done on “tataya,” motorized boats with no outriggers, four meters long, the length of a four-wheel van. A “tataya” can take on only two tons per trip. And that’s in summer when water is calm.

​Transporting the garlic to Ilocos, as Panganiban suggested, is easier said than done. No ferry can cross the channel this time of year. At best “tataya” can sail four hours to Basco in Batanes main island. From there the garlic can be shipped or flown out. Factor in the cost of labor, fuel and sundries.

​At ports are more expenses. Only contracted stevedores may board vessels to load and unload. At piers below, only arrastre servicers may load and unload cargo from land transports. Many are monopolies of local politicos.

Slow work is normal, like only 5,000 food sacks put in or out a day. One ship captain in November 2013 had expected to finish unloading in four days 20,000 sacks of rice in Tacloban. Speeded up by cranes, stevedores moved out 5,000 sacks on the first day, but the ship was ordered to moor elsewhere due to approaching super typhoon Yolanda. Wrecked and swept back hundreds of meters inland the next morning, the ship was looted days later. Unaided by cranes, the hungry gang took only from dawn to dusk to cart away the 15,000 remaining sacks.

Few ports are roll on-roll off. The port authority and private operators must put up facilities, but don’t. Shipowners are forced to install onboard cranes at the bow and stern, PhP5 million apiece. Those costs are passed on to shippers, mostly of food.

There’s a long list of fees to pay: wharfage, pilotage, demurrage, among others. Wharfage is paid to the port for parking. Storage is separate if the cargo overstays the allowed clearing time.

Balintawak public market, Manila | LiCAS.news
A market trader preparing produce to sell in her stall at the public market in Balintawak, Manila. (Photo by Marielle Lucenio / LiCAS.news)
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Upon entering a harbor, the skipper must turn over the vessel to the franchised harbor pilot. Supposedly knowing every square inch of the zone, the latter parks the vessel at the pier and returns it to the skipper on exit. Any damage to the ship or pier is chargeable not to the harbor pilot but the shipowner. Pilotage fees vary based on ship tonnage, PhP3,000-PhP5,000 per stop. But Batangas ports charge a flat rate of PhP24,700, regardless of ship size. Port authorities penalize shipowners PhP5,000 for failing to avail of pilotage.

Demurrage is penalty paid by the shipper or charterer to the ship owner for failure to deliver and discharge cargo on time. Usually it’s not the former’s fault, but bureaucratic red tape. Customs inspections and documentation requirements overlap with those of food, fisheries, animal and plant industry regulators, plus those of export zone and freeport agencies.

“Tara” (grease money), PhP10,000 per container, is needed to hasten routine release. Customs penalizes consignees PhP5,000 per typo error and misspelling. Food cargo containers and crates pile up at sea and airports. A third of 3,500 containers stuck at Manila port is food. Cargo handlers must pay shipping lines PhP25,000 deposit per empty container shell. Again, such freight costs are passed on to consumers.

Recently suspected smuggled shipments of sugar were detained at ports for review of papers. They turned out to be legal imports. But the 15-day delays, PhP200,000 demurrage per day, made the sugar costlier.

Refrigerated cargo container rental is another cost. Truck engines are kept running to cool the containers while strawberry in Benguet or prawn in Pangasinan are harvested. These are then rushed to wholesalers and processors in Metro Manila.

Fuel is the main cost inflater. Gasoline is half of any fisher’s expense, whether for large trawler or small banca, says Jonjon Santos, Association of Fresh Fish Traders president. They again pay for gas to truck the catch to market. Fuel also runs power plants to electrify food cold storages.

And don’t forget police checkpoints. “Viajeros” toss cash at them to avoid delays of perishable food. Disasters can stall food deliveries.

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. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.

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