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Home Op-Ed Columns Opinion on Page One ‘Agricultural renaissance’  is either official nonsense or punditry’s idiocy

‘Agricultural renaissance’  is either official nonsense or punditry’s idiocy

 

MARLEN V. RONQUILLO

The surging prices of eggs, a pressing, urgent problem for poor families that depend on eggs and cheap noodles for daily survival, have been obscured by bigger agri-related issues — the rock-bottom palay prices and the presence of the lethal African swine fever (ASF) in small, swill-feeding hog farms in Rizal and Bulacan. But from the realm of the poor’s daily struggle in meeting their food needs, the rising prices of eggs are a very important issue.

Because no one is looking into the “whys” of this pressing issue, which further strains the already-weak purchasing power of the poor (when an issue impacts on the poor, no one minds it), I have asked around to find out the reasons. There are two.


The first reason is environmental concerns. Many egg farms in Central Luzon, with an estimated capacity of 1 million eggs daily, had been shuttered by zealous local government units (LGUs) based on complaints from citizens about flies and foul smell.

The second, small egg farms that had failed to adopt sophisticated biosecurity measures had been hit by the lethal Newcastle’s Disease, or NCD, which on the record had been eviscerated long ago.
That it is making a resurgence, given the improvement by leaps and bounds of animal health science, is a major blow to animal science.  But, let us qualify this, it remains an isolated thing.

Along with the shuttering of egg farms (called  by the generic name “layers”) is the ongoing effort to close down broiler farms. In many areas of Central Luzon, this is going on, abetted by ample TV coverage of LGU officials in the act of shutting down “polluters.”

Many of the farms closed down were Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF)-financed poultry farms (these are the tunnel-ventilated, modern types) with the bulk of the loans still to be paid. A wobbly ACEF may be the result of these closures. When you shutter down these farms, many things are lost — permanently. Investments, farm jobs, the spending of these farms on yellow corn, soya, rice bran, fish meal, salt and many other requirements of feed production. The backlash and the ricochet are all double, triple negatives. This is under the radar of mainstream economics, but it is true. One mid-size broiler farm  alone can  feed the family of a sari-sari storeowner.

On the other anchors of the agriculture sector, sugar is facing an existential threat. There is a plan for the so-called “unli” importation of sugar, which would bring the now-dying industry, once a pillar of the Philippine economy,  to its sure collapse.  Right now, the Negros Island is a fertile recruiting ground for rebels. Once the “unli” importation policy for sugar is carried out and the state of poverty worsens in the rural areas there, what do you expect?

The impact of the ASF presence on the P220-billion industry is the equivalent of a reclusion perpetua sentence on hog raisers, big or small, backyard or commercial. The ongoing farmgate price of feeds is now down to P100 per kilo for backyard raisers and P110 to P115 for commercial farms. The P110 is the production cost per kilo in big farms with their own feed mills. Smaller farms that depend  on commercial feeds will go bankrupt on a farmgate range of P100 to P105 per kilo.

The P100-per-kilo price was the average price during the long price slump from 2010 to 2015, which many hog raisers now call “The Lost Years.” Many  dreaded the return of those lost years. But they are back, and the road to recovery is still a question mark.

None of these problems could ever match the desperation of the country’s 3 million small rice farmers. Prices are from P8 to P10 per kilo and may slide down further. All those government pronouncements of  it buying at P19 per kilo  have not lifted the market. Those in the industry know it is just plain bullshit from the government. Government does not walk the talk.

Among farmers, what rubs salt on their very deep wounds are the proclamations of an “agricultural renaissance”  that would  supposedly follow these episodes of despair. What is coming soon in the rural areas, the truth be told,  are the so-called “deaths of despair,” or broken farmers just  taking their own miserable lives because there is no way out of their miseries.

For the prostrate sector, no renaissance will be forthcoming, not in a hundred years, unless the government reverses the brazen urban bias of its policies and adequately funds the road to that “renaissance.” The problem is this — no modern-day president has paid attention to agriculture.

The research and development (R&D) funds of both the University of the Philippines Los Baños and the Central Luzon State University are lower than what the high powers in government spend  for the upkeep of their mistresses. In a situation like that, where will the “ renaissance,” come from?  Entirely anecdotal, but it is the harsh truth. When the premier agricultural university of the state is starved of R&D funds, what do you expect?

The clueless pundits proclaiming the coming new lease on life for agriculture are mostly  preaching from perches that can’t distinguish fiction from the harsh realities of farm/rural existence. We, with the callous hands and broken spirits, don’t even want to divine on their motivations.

Are they merely sugar coating the harsh realities in which we live? Or, are they serving a sinister propaganda purpose? Either way, they need to stop cosmeticizing our miserable existence  and stop all that nonsense  task about an upcoming “renaissance.”

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Today’s Front Page February 20, 2020

Today’s Front Page February 20, 2020