President Rody Duterte last night witnessed the launching of the TienDA@Abreeza Project of the Department of Agriculture and the Ayala Abreeza Mall in Davao City.

Attended by a Zobel de Ayala scion, Jaime Augusto who is listed in Forbes as one of the richest in the world, the event marked the start of the Corporate Social Program of the Ayala Group which would allow farmers and fishermen to display and sell their products in areas in the Abreeza Malls all over the country free of charge.

Next week, Ayala Abreeza Mall in Cebu City will launch the same program.

Here is the message I delivered during the program:

Mr. President, in February 2018, when the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) lifts the 3-month closed fishing season in the Visayan Sea and Zamboanga Peninsula, the price of “tamban” and “bangsi” is expected to go to as low as P5 per kilo in the communities near the fishing grounds.

Brought to the market by middlemen and traders who own fish vans or fish cars, that same fish will fetch at least P100 per kilo.

For every 5,000-hectares of rice farms with an average yield of 4 metric tons per hectare, buying price ofP15 per kilo and selling price of rice at P40 per kilo, the rice trader will earn an estimated P50-million every harvest.

The sad story in the food supply chain in this country Mr. President is that the traders and the middlemen dictate how much a fisherman would earn from his catch or the farm from his farm produce. The traders also determine the price of the goods when sold in the market.

As a result, the farmers earn less and the consumers pay more.

This is the age-old anomaly in the Philippine Food Supply chain which also affects productivity. Since farmers and fishermen earn very little from their hard work, this results in a diminished enthusiasm to produce more.

This is not an easy problem to solve, Mr. President.

The farmers and fishermen rely on the traders and middlemen for quick loans to serve as their working capital. As soon as they harvest or catch fish, they sell their produce right away because they need cash.

There are working models in Japan, Taiwan, the United States and South Korea that we could draw lessons from in addressing this problem.

In South Korea, for example, the government assisted the farmers and fishermen in federating themselves into a national cooperative called Nong Hyup which was established shortly after the Korean War.

Today, the Nong Hyup own their own stores, transport vessels and trucks, insurance companies and even banks.

This is too much for us to dream of achieving within a short period of time but we can start working on empowering our farmers and fisherfolk during your term.

In December last year, following a drop in the prices of onion, the Department of Agriculture with the help of the Go Negosyo team of Presidential Asst. Joey Concepcion, linked up Nueva Ecija’s Onion farmers to big buyers like SM, Robinson’s, Rustan’s, Century Tuna, Jollibee, McDonald’s, Max Chicken and others.

Early this year, through the able handling of Undersecretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, the DA started the TienDA Farmers and Fisher Folks’ Outlet where products are sold at farm gate prices in the urban centers.

The TienDA @Abreeza Mall which we are staging today is part of the advocacy that the Department of Agriculture is undertaking to give our farmers and fisherfolk access to the market.

What we have here in Abreeza Mall in Davao City is a public-private partnership to help our farmers and this started when a good-looking man visited me in my office early this year.

He and his companion, Ruel Maranan, lined up just everybody else to see the Secretary of Agriculture to ask how he could help the Department in its programs.

That man turned out to Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, one of the richest men in the world whose family owns the Abreeza Malls which now offers free spaces to our farmers and fisher folks to sell their products twice a week.

Actually, this is not our first engagement with the Ayala Group.

In Iloilo Province, they have engaged rice farmers in corporate rice farming where they buy the produce of the rice farmers to supply the monthly rice allowance of their employees.

This is a work in progress but our ultimate objective is to empower our farmers to have the full control of the food supply chain, from his farm to the market.

There is a quicker way of achieving the first level of the empowerment of our farmers and fisher folks but we need your support Mr. President.

As your Secretary of Agriculture, I am recommending that the National Food Authority (NFA) be given a bigger role to perform in ensuring stable food supply in the market while at the same time allowing farmers and fisher folks access to the market.

The NFA should no longer be just a rice importing agency, especially so since we expect to produce enough supply by the year 2020.

The NFA should be the consolidator of products from each region to be repositioned in other parts of the country where these commodities are needed.

If there is abundance of fish in Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi, let NFA set up a Regional Food Terminal in Zamboanga City which would consolidate the produce to be brought to Cebu or Metro Manila .

If there is an abundance of vegetables in Baguio, let NFA consolidate these products to be brought to other parts of the country where the commodity in needed.

Our farmers and fisher folks could produce so much but the fruits of their labor could hardly reach the market because of the problem of logistics.

The NFA is the proper agency of government to handle the repositioning of food stocks to stabilize supply while at the same time helping our food producers gain access to the market.

You are familiar with this concept of Food Repositioning, Mr. President, because we already talked about this lengthily during the days when you were Mayor of Davao City and I was Governor of North Cotabato.

It was you who said that the problem of this country is not the lack of food but the very poor repositioning of supplies in a country of 7,500 islands.

The farmers and fisher folks should be freed from the burden of finding a market for their produce. The Regional Food Terminals operated by the NFA should serve as the destination of their products where they will be paid a fair price.

When we are able to do this Mr. President, our farmers and fisher folks will be all the more inspired to catch more fish and produce more food.

When we shall have institutionalized the Regional Food Terminals, our farmers and fisher folks later on could take over the operations and run these facilities themselves.

We may not see its fruition during your Presidency, Mr. President.

But when we have both retired from public service, we could always look back to this period in the history of our country and be happy with the thought that you built the foundations of a food supply chain system which empowered the farmers and fisher folks and provided the Filipino people the realization of your commitment of Available and Affordable Food.


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