JUST as the country slowly emerges from the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Filipinos are not completely out of the woods yet as they face expensive fuel and food prices this year.
The current food situation of the country did not happen overnight. Farmers were already reeling from expensive fertilizer prices as early as late last year due to tightening global supply. The situation worsened after the world woke up to news that Russia—a key source of potash fertilizer—had invaded Ukraine, sending countries scrambling to balance the global economy and peace in Eastern Europe.
And the Philippines was not spared from that fallout. In fact, the country’s agriculture sector was quick to point out the possible impact of the Ukraine-Russia war on food prices. Less than a week after the Eastern Europe conflict broke out, industry leaders from the hog, poultry, egg, and corn sectors warned of higher food prices in the days to come due to lack of raw materials for the livestock and poultry industries and higher fuel prices.
The National Federation of Hog Farmers Inc., Federation of Pork Producers Inc., Philippine Maize Federation Inc., and United Broiler Raisers Association were in unison that the government must prioritize domestic food production over imports as the Ukraine-Russia conflict showed anew the problems of being import dependent.
Boost local production
“I HOPE this time the government [would] really realize the importance of local food production and make serious and tangible actions to support local agriculture rather than relying on imports,” ProPork President Nonon Tambago said.
“We encourage our farmers amidst this crisis in Russia…our local corn farmers must plant more corn in their farming areas to guarantee supply for our end users—the livestock, poultry, dairy and industrial corn users,” PhilMaize President Roger V. Navarro said.
No less than Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said the country must implement various measures to combat the detrimental impact of the “converging” global factors on the country’s food supply situation.
“It is imperative and urgent for the Philippine government to ensure that we have adequate, affordable and accessible supply of basic food items, and agricultural inputs to ensure continued productivity and increased incomes of farmers and fisherfolk,” he said.
Part of the government’s efforts to cushion the Ukraine-Russia war was the P500-million fuel subsidy to corn farmers and fisherfolk as well as the continuous rollout of fertilizer subsidy to rice farmers. On top of these, President Duterte greenlighted the P24-billion Plant Plant Plant Part 2 program of the Department of Agriculture (DA), which includes a P20-billion fertilizer subsidy.
Hanging in the balance
But the recommendations made by the administration’s economic team sent agricultural groups hanging in the balance as they pushed for lower tariffs on corn, expanded corn import volume and extended lower tariffs on pork and rice products until the end of the year.
As expected, industry groups bucked the proposals of the economic team as manifested during the public consultations conducted by the Tariff Commission recently.
And as if the detrimental impact of the Ukraine-Russia war was not enough, the local farm sector faced more problems in the first quarter of the year. Avian influenza came back, affecting quails and ducks in Luzon.
The confirmation of bird flu outbreaks led to local government units (LGUs) issuing transport and entry bans on poultry products, resulting in artificial imbalance in the supply of Luzon and Visayas. This was despite clear-cut guidelines issued by the DA regarding the transport and handling of poultry products amid bird flu outbreaks.
The meat processing sector also suffered a blow to their industry as sourcing of raw materials from the United States and Canada were temporarily halted due to bird flu concerns in the two North American territories. The already stretched raw material supply of the meat processing sector was further pushed into a corner, with manufacturers issuing crystal-clear warnings that their prices would shoot up no matter what.
Just as Filipinos were getting used to a more open economy with lesser mobility restrictions, things had to go sideways. With just three months of the year about to end, and a perfect storm of adversities already visited upon the land, stakeholders in the sector can only wait with bated breath on whether the days ahead would be any kinder.
Image credits: Nonie Reyes