Bias for rice hurting livestock

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(Second of four parts)

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Editor’s Note: The first part of this four-part series discussed how Charoen Pokphand Foods Philippines Corp. came under fire from the domestic hog industry. It is also part of the article that was adjudged 2013 Agriculture Story of the Year during the BrightLeaf Agriculture Journalism Awards held in December last year. It was originally published in Livestock and Meat Business (LaMB) Magazine by the author.

Months before leaving his post as head of the National Meat Inspection Service, Jane Bacayo said that dealing with the hog industry is not easy.

“Marihap kausapin ang iba sa hog industry.

Sakit sa ulo. [It’s difficult dealing with some guys from the hog industry. They give you a headache],” he added.

Still, as industry representatives continue to create a stir over the Board of Investments (BOI) tax perks even after bringing their case before the Supreme Court, it remains to be seen whether the Department of Agriculture (DA) will extend an all-out support to their cause.

“As for [Agriculture Secretary Proceso] Alcala, his reaction to the farmers’ gripes over CP was more that of a typical politician trying to appease noisy constituents,” a private veterinarian operating in Quezon City commented, referring to Charoen Pokphand Foods Philippines Corp. (CPF Philippines or CP Foods).

“What the secretary should have done was to act like a true, well-informed government executive able to present meaningful solutions and strategies the livestock industry needs to cope with recurring and emerging challenges,” he suggested.

For sure, the incumbent DA chief maintains a coterie of livestock bureaucrats, consultants and advisers assisting him in setting policy directions, and implementing development programs for the grains-feeds-livestock-meat supply chain.

Sadly, past and present administrations have simplistically equated good governance of agriculture with being able to succeed in bringing rice production to self-sufficiency and export levels, prejudicing other equally important commodities like livestock and poultry along the way.

Historical bias for rice
Such official obsession with rice and negligible attention to livestock can be gleaned by the huge budgetary allocation always given by the government to the crop while giving less for chicken and hog. This had been the case even as the combined production value of the two subsectors had already surpassed that of palay (unmilled rice) for over 10 years now.

For 2012 alone, state funds allotted to rice—excluding billions for irrigation which is largely for rice—reached a whopping P6.18 billion. Livestock, on the other hand, received P2.42 billion for the same period, Department of Budget and Management records show.

In spite of the lower budget, hog and chicken alone generated a combined production value worth P396.2 billion last year while palay output value was much lower by over P100 billion, at P292 billion, according to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics.

Unlike palay wherein state and local authorities intervene heavily in the way it is irrigated, produced, harvested, and marketed, hog and broilers are largely financed and managed by a category of players from the private sector—from small backyard raisers to mid-size producers to large commercial operators and integrators.

Since some DA bureaucrats have developed a faulty notion that the livestock industry—being private-driven, can thrive well even with minimal government support and supervision—they have come to treat the sector with indifference and with lesser importance, observers said.

Deliberately or not, they have allowed industry players to operate on their own lookout and at their own risk, but offering little to help them cope with various challenges that come their way, observers added.

“Behind local feed and food producers’ anxiety over the BOI tax perks given to CP is actually an unspoken yearning for them to get the right form of government assistance that will help them adapt to changing realities, improve on their efficiency and increase their productivity,” an agri-equipment and agrihousing supplier from Mandaluyong explained.

“Sadly, what they see so far is a bureaucracy so detached from reality and which lacks the passion and innovation needed to move the livestock sector to greater heights,” he added.

To illustrate, industry players have pointed out instances whereby they claim past and current officials have incurred serious lapses, notably in dealing with animal health issues, pork export drive, and efforts to build “AAA” slaughterhouses.

Little help to combat PRRS
While DA officials often boast the country is free from foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and avian influenza (AI), several hog farms continue to languish from emerging and recurring diseases like Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS). Yet government has not done enough to address the problem.

As the PRRS virus sometimes spread alongside with other diseases like hog cholera and Porcine Circo Virus Type2 or PCV2, farms hit by PRRS suffer up to 90 percent mortality and piglets face greater chances of death than adults.

The economically debilitating disease had been blamed to cause heavy mortalities and a sharp hog production decline in large parts of the country from 2006 to late 2008. At the time, swine practitioners had reported losses reaching from P5 billion to P7 billion, with deaths affecting both backyard and large commercial farms.

BAI lab tests conducted during a 16-month period ending October 2008 showed that PRRS had been present and seriously threatening hog farms in the Cordillera, Ilocos, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Metro Manila, Bicol, Central Visayas and Zamboanga del Sur.

Despite the magnitude and intensity of the problem, BAI bought only about P16-million worth of injectable vaccines to combat the virus, citing budgetary constraints. It was an amount not even enough to meet the required doses of one major pig-growing province like Bulacan, swine practitioners recalled.

Still, the government carried out vaccination in only two areas close to Manila—Bulacan and Pampanga. This compelled thousands of hog farmers in other affected provinces beyond the reach of BAI to buy their own vaccines and fend for themselves to cope with the disease challenge.

“It’s nice to hear of government doing something on PRRS and other diseases,” a swine practitioner working for a mid-sized farm in Pampanga, commented. “But if you go down the field, the help is really just lip service because only a very few small raisers in a limited area get the token benefit, while medium-sized and large commercial farms are excluded,” he added.

(To be continued)

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