Despite lockdown-induced controls on food trade, they’ll keep farming


Backliners: Farmers Homer Bucad
and Samson Velasco of Gerona, Tarlac


Filipinos stormed supermarkets and groceries to stockpile on food products upon learning that the government would impose a month-long “lockdown” in Metro Manila, and eventually over all of Luzon.

But Filipino farmers and fisherfolk, who mostly live from the profits of their seasonal harvest, were caught in a different storm.

Farmers rushed to sell their harvest with hopes of taking advantage of higher buying prices from traders.

They were not wrong in doing so, as the trading situation worsened after quarantine checkpoints and stringent protocols were set up by local government units down to the barangay level in the race to fight Covid-19.

Farmers are now facing a supply chain disruption as checkpoints set by LGUs control the entry and exit of trucks and traders in their areas.

Checkpoints

In the case of Samson Velasco, who tills a 1-hectare rice farm in Gerona, Tarlac, traders can only enter their area during Wednesdays and Sundays.

“Yung iba po naming inani hindi po maibenta [dahil]… Linggo at Miyerkules [lang ang] labas papunta sa bayan. Pag wala pong papasok dito sa amin, talagang wala pong [benta]. Yung iba pa nga po hindi na nabebenta dahil problema sa pagta-transport,” Velasco, 44, told the BusinessMirror via a video call.

[Some of our harvest could not be sold, because transit to and from our farms is allowed only on Sundays and Wednesdays. If no one enters our place, we can’t sell. Some produce can’t be sold because of the problem with transportation].

Velasco said he sold some of his palay harvest prior to the lockdown at P18 per kilogram to be able to save up some funds.

However, buying prices are now continuously rising but without the certainty of the rice being sold due to transport disruptions, he added.

Velasco said some farmers are now worried that their vegetable harvest, like eggplants, would go to waste if trading of farm produce continues to be disrupted.

“Pagka nagka-ani, hintayin po namin Linggo at Miyerkules. Kada tatlong araw nagha-harvest po sila ng talong dito; pag wala pong pumapasok na mga buyer dito, talagang walang mangyayari … sa mga tanim po namin,” he said.

[After we harvest, we wait for Sunday and Wednesday. So people here harvest eggplants every three days. But if no buyer comes here, nothing will really happen to our produce].


Sinking ‘singkamas’ prices

Homer Bucad, 52, also a Gerona, Tarlac-based farmer, said the transport disruptions have caused the buying price for singkamas (turnips) to plunge to P60 per kilogram from price levels of P120 per kg to P180 per kg prior to the enhanced community quarantine.

Madalang po makapasok na ang mga bumibili dahil po sa mga checkpoint. ’Yung mga tricycles, mga kolong-kolong, hindi kagaya dati, hirap na po makapasok,” Bucad told the BusinessMirror via video call.

[The buyers rarely come these days because of the checkpoints. The tricyles, the kolong kolong, unlike before, now have difficulty coming in].

Kahit mababa na po ‘yung presyo pinapatulan na po ng mga farmer, para hindi mabulok at para mabenta lang,” Bucad added.

[Even if the prices are low, the farmers will bite, just so their produce doesn’t get rotten and gets sold].

Bucad said the strict checkpoints also hampered the entry and exit of farm machinery such as combined harvesters, which could have helped them harvest their produce easily.  

The impact of Covid-19 on food trade comes at a time when farmers like Bucad and Velasco are still reeling from the plunge of palay prices in the past two cropping seasons as rice imports increased.

Survival

Both Velasco and Bucad said they are surviving with the food they produced from their farms.

Bucad has received relief goods from the government, but said these cannot last for the duration of the ECQ.

“Tiis-tiis lang muna  …  [kung] anong merong diyan, tanim na gulay. Iyon po muna ang pagtiyatiyagaan namin na kainin at ulamin, lalo na halimbawa karamihan kasi rito mga farmers, wala namang ibang pagkakakitaan,” Velasco said.

[We’re just making do in the meantime. Whatever vegetables we planted, we eat. Most farmers here have no other means of livelihood].

For his part, Bucad said he plants cassava, and raises pigs, chickens and ducks, “so we’ll get by.”

President Duterte on Holy Tuesday approved the extension of the ECQ in Luzon until end-April. No one knows if it would be the first and final extension of stringent quarantine measures to prevent the spread of and eventually vanquish Covid-19.

But for backliners like Bucad and Velasco, one thing is certain: they will continue to farm as long as they can.

“Magtatanim na lang po ulit. Baka sakali maka-recover po ulit gawa po ng malaki pong dagok sa farmers ‘yung nangyayari po ngayon, gawa po ng Covid. Kung ano po puwedeng itanim ulit sa mga ano . . . ganoon na lang po gagawin namin  . . .  para makabawi ng kaunti,” Bucad, who has been farming for three decades, said. 

[We will just plant again. Hopefully, we can recover; Covid really dealt a big blow to farmers. Whatever we can plant, we’ll do so, to make up, somehow, for what we lost].


Coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic has lately  focused — and rightly so — on the invaluable sacrifices of the medical frontliners who go beyond the call of duty to save as many patients as possible.

The difficulties arising from Covid-19 and the extreme measures it has forced authorities to impose, such as the lockdowns, are also being eased, however, by some people whose work may not easily draw attention, but is nonetheless vital to making our lives as normal as possible.

They are the “backliners” — the grocery store staff and market vendors who make sure we can buy basic items; the farmers and fishermen who put food in our markets and groceries; the bank employees; the Customs inspectors who must quickly clear cargo, especially vital equipment and supplies to fight the virus; pharmacists, garbage men, and the engineers and workmen who must rush to build or retrofit off-hospital quarantine centers, among others. They cannot “stay at home” because they have tasks indispensable in this crisis.

In this series, the BusinessMirror pays tribute to them.

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