Incoming Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has declared an “all-out war” against abusive middlemen, saying traders should “control their greed or end up holding an empty sack.”
“To the traders I say this: I understand your business but do not be too greedy. Stop squeezing the farmers and fisherfolk dry and making life hard for the consumers. Just remember this, we have a President who thinks out of the box,” Piñol said in a statement.
Piñol said that in the ideal world, farmers are supposed to make money producing food, the traders bring it to the market making a little profit for the effort, and the consumers enjoy affordable food—all three of them end up smiling and happy.
The incoming Department of Agriculture chief said that is not the case, however, in the real world, emphasizing the great difference between what farmers earn for their products and the cost consumers pay for food.
“The food supply chain in the country today is controlled and even to some extent manipulated by the merchants and the traders. It is the trader who determines the price of farmers’ produce, and it is still the trader who dictates the cost of food in the market,” he said.
“In the real world, farmers are poor and the consumers are sad as they stretch their budgets for food, but the traders rake in the money, ride in luxury vehicles and lead lavish lifestyles,” he added.
He said that the government has done its best to address this anomaly for years, including establishing support prices for palay and corn, and imposing price controls on food commodities in the market to ensure that the costs do not go beyond the capacity of the consumers.
But these measures have largely been ineffective and this is mainly because of the greed that consumes many of the traders who have formed themselves into cartels, he charged.
In a post to his Facebook page titled “Confronting the Monster: Farmers, Traders, Buyers, and the Insatiable Greed,” Piñol cited blatant anomalies in agricultural pricing and selling, which include raw rubber prices that have plunged from over P90 per kilo a few years ago to only P20 per kilo today, even as the price of a pick-up rubber tire has climbed almost as high as P10,000 per piece.
For palay, Piñol said the average buying price is at P17.50 per kilo, but good quality rice is sold at almost P40 per kilo.
While oil palm fresh fruit bunch (FFB) is bought at P3.60 per kilo in the Philippines, he further noted, palm oil is still being smuggled to the Philippines from Malaysia, where the average price is P5.60 per kilo.
Hogs are bought at P90 per kilo live but pork sells as much as P150 per kilo in the market, while traders buy Agar-agar from seaweed farmers for only P2 per kilo, and resell the dried carageenan to Cebu-based processors for over P30 per kilo.
The incoming Agriculture chief said that the DA would implement a two-pronged approach to address the problems of middlemen to deliver on President Rody Duterte’s promise of available and affordable food.
“First, the Department of Agriculture under President Duterte’s leadership will support the farmers and fisherfolk to ensure that their cost of production is lower and their yield or catch is increased. Second, there has to be a way to lessen the middlemen’s level of control in determining the buying and selling price of food commodities. This could be done by turning farmers and fishermen into small entrepreneurs themselves by giving them direct access to the market,” he said.
Piñol said that he has employed the services of Pompee La Viña, whose expertise is in entrepreneurial management. La Viña will have a seat as an Agriculture undersecretary tasked “to lift up the poor farmers and fishermen to the level of entrepreneurs who will sell their products directly to the consumers.”
For rubber farmers, the new administration would form a company or corporation which would get involved with the processing of their rubber products and start the manufacturing of bicycle, motorcycle or car and pick-up tires at the farm level, while rice farmers will also be organized and given the necessary support so that they will have their own rice processing centers at the farm level.
“The rice farmers could then be linked up with big corporations who could buy the rice directly to be supplied to their employees. It is not even remote that I would one day suggest to President Duterte that each government employee receive a monthly one-sack rice allowance, and the rice would be bought directly from farmers groups,” he said.