May harang pa kaya an lada?

Will chili peppers still taste pungent?

Kan luminangkaw an presyo kan lada asin nagdalagan sa sarong ribo hanggang un mil dosyentos, duminakula man su paglaom ni Manoy Juan na mag-asenso. Kaya nag-arkila siya ki sadit na lote para mag-oma ki lada na ipapabakal. Nag-popoon pa lang mag-tubo su mga tanom niya, buminagsak tulos su presyo na uminabot sa P300 hanggang P500. (When the price of chili pepper rose to P1 thousand to P1.2 thousand, Manoy Juan’s hope to increase his income grew. So he rented a small farm to plant peppers and sell his produce. His plants were starting to grow when the price dropped to P300 to P500.)

Demon peppers

The story of Manoy Juan is the story of most farmers. A few years back, when I was doing a study on the political feasibility of the Philippine Rural Development Program (PRDP), I was told that farmers in Western Visayas were encouraged to plant patola or loofah (either Luffa acutangular or Luffa aegyptiaca/Luffa cylindrica) because of the information from the Department of Agriculture (DA) that there is a high demand for the same. But when the farmers could not find the market, the farmers protested and left their produce to rot in front of the DA field office. A similar situation occurred a few months ago when the farmers left to rot tons of tomatoes in Laguna (see here and here).

There are a number of reasons for these. First is the lack of market information – that is, where the farmers could sell their produce, and the quality of produce required by the market. While Manila’s price for tomato ranges from P20 to P80 per kilo, tomatoes in Laguna at that time were sold at P4 per kilo. Next, while there are physical infrastructure being constructed under the PRDP, the farm-to-market distribution system is, and still remains, private-sector dependent. Hence, when the private sector, for one reason or another, would not perform its role, agricultural produce are left to rot in or near the farms. This affects the prices thus creating a superficial scarcity in the season of plenty.

Third, pre- and post-harvest technical information is also lacking. As a result, quality of the produce is low which means lack of demand or poor market prices. Information on value-adding is also absent so while a segment of the population are looking at tomato ketchups, the farmers only see the tomatoes as the prize for their wrong decisions. For lack of other opportunities, they will start planting again and the cycle goes on and on.

Lately, Manoy Juan is experiencing difficulty in selling his produce with the flooding of imported (or smuggled?) pepper. Despite the assurance of the government that only selected agricultural products will be imported, the entry of goods, including pepper, is unabated due to issues in border control. If shabu can enter the country despite the war on drugs, why not chili pepper?

Aside from customs and border control issues, flooding of imported agricultural products happen because of the government’s flawed vision for agriculture. As clearly stated by Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, the direction of the agriculture sector is towards food security which opens the floodgates for importation that will eventually discourage farmers and agriculture workers to plant. Consistently, the agriculture department is even planning to implement a policy this coming year that limits the provision of technical expertise and farm inputs and instead provide farmers with loans ranging from P10,000 to P100,000. But will the loans be enough to address the problems in the agriculture that is rooted on the flawed vision in the first place?

Manoy Juan has started harvesting his chili peppers uncertain where he’d sold them. Earlier, he tried his luck at the public markets of Daraga and Legazpi but logistics took a toll on his capital. He is lucky that his farm is safe from flooding and landslide though the heavy rains brought about by Usman affected the fruits of his labor. As he picked the peppers one by one, he continues to sigh showing signs that hope for an increase in income is flickering. Whether the government will totally blow this hope away, only the agriculture department can tell.





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