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Sunday, January 19, 2020
Home Op-Ed Columns Opinion on Page One Fast-spreading farm viruses, fast-engulfing farm misery

Fast-spreading farm viruses, fast-engulfing farm misery



A FEW months back, the Department of Agriculture (DA), knowing the perils that come with our porous borders and the greed of meat importers and smugglers, came out with a plea. The appeal was this: Cases of the lethal African swine fever, the dreaded ASF, had been reported in eight countries (China, Russia, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar). Please have a sense of country and stop getting pork from these countries.

The appeal, that the survival of the P250-billion hog industry was at stake, meant little to the profiteers. The lust for profit in this sad country of ours does not have an accompanying sense of country.

Today, a still unidentified disease has been wiping out hog farms in Bulacan and Rizal. In the Central Visayas, Bohol has reported swine deaths. Cullings and quarantines, the most terrifying nightmare for the hog industry, have been imposed. The hog industry is in a state of panic. A precipitous drop in the farmgate prices of abattoir-ready hogs, from an average of P130 to P105 per kilogram, has taken place and a further drop is expected. At the public markets in Pampanga, where the pork stalls are usually the busiest, the current condition can be summed up with this apt Tagalog description — matumal.

Batangas province, the base of many industrial-scale hog farms and the modern hog farms that supply both pricey boars, sows and hog genetics, has imposed a mandatory quarantine. Pampanga, also host to big hog farms, is likewise on the edge and preparing for emergencies.

The Bulacan/Pampanga/Tarlac areas in Central Luzon and Batangas/Rizal in the Calabarzon supply more than 70 percent of Luzon’s pork requirements. Should a swine epidemic strike these provinces, the results are predictable: the crippling of Luzon pork supply, soaring pork prices, tens of thousands of farm workers dislocated and a banking system holding on to worthless mortgage collaterals.

The industrial-size farms, with an average population of 500 sows (total population at this sow size is around 5,000), you see, have been regular borrowers from the banking mainstream. The backyard farms, mostly 10- to 20-sow levels, are mostly owned by OFW families and these are self-financed.

The city-based people uncurious about farm life, or who get their information about “successful lives of farmers” through the farcical, cherry-picked articles in the glossy agricultural magazines, will not even notice that such virus attacks have international implications. Pork from the Philippines and exports based on Philippine pork will now be banned from entering other markets. Even the pork imports that countries should buy from the Philippines under international trading rules, and whose volume is governed by the MAV, or minimum access volume, will be waived.

A pork pariah, literally.

Taiwan is now checking the luggage of travelers originating from the Philippines for possible ASF virus, though some in government claim that hog cholera, less lethal than the ASF, has been the source of the hog deaths. Taiwan is one of the most progressive in the area of agricultural production and it will protect its hog sector at all costs.

As if the presence of the mysterious deaths in Luzon’s hog farms was not enough, there are reports that isolated cases of NCD (Newcastle disease) had been noted in some egg-producing farms of Central Luzon. The talks of NCD’s presence has been the sad topic that has been circulating in the broiler and egg-producing circles of the region since a month ago. At least one egg farm of 8,000 layers was shut down after the entire stock was wiped out, according to the talks. Then, another bigger farm was also wiped out by NCD.

I have ceased operating my traditional poultry farm (I actually dismantled the buildings and sold the wood and GI sheets to scrap dealers) but I am still in touch with some of the players. My routine question on why egg prices are rising was answered with a curt reply — NCD. During my time raising broilers, NCD was referred to in the past tense because of improved animal health hygiene and the meticulous/laborious NCD-prevention process adopted by the poultry farms. Now, there are reports that it is back and this is another layer of depressing news.

ASF/Cholera for hogs and NCD for poultry? There can be no news more devastating for these two important agri sub-sectors.

Of course, the biggest concern in the farming areas remains the falling palay prices. The decision of Congress to end the quantitative restrictions on rice imports for a regime of reckless rice importation was the equivalent of a death sentence on 3 million small rice farmers. In an act equivalent to rubbing salt on the open wounds of the small rice farmers, smugglers and importers have been reportedly undervaluing their rice imports, depressing the money pool to be raised from the rice tariffs, which Congress said would be used for an amelioration program for rice farmers.

Everywhere, the agriculture sector is witness to a reign of greed mostly from importers, food processors and smugglers.

Even the most passionate appeal for sense of country is set aside for immediate gain. Misery in the farming areas is fast-spreading, with human and animal lives as major preys.

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