Breakup of Cartel, Price Control for Veggies Urged

Farmers need built-in mechanisms for pricing, a researcher from a Cordillera peasant alliance said in reaction to the agriculture secretary’s bid to provide Benguet farmers additional outlets for Manila consumers.

Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat

BAGUIO CITY – Farmers need built-in mechanisms for pricing, a researcher from a Cordillera peasant alliance said in reaction to the agriculture secretary’s bid to provide Benguet farmers additional outlets for Manila consumers. Benguet is an upland province of the Cordillera region, northern Philippines.

Fernando Bagyan, researcher of the Alyansa ti Pesante iti Taeng Kordilyera (Apit Tako or Alliance of Peasants in the Cordillera Homeland) said that farmers face problems in unfair trade due to the absence of government post-harvest assistance mechanisms.

Bagyan said that government should manage post-harvest facilities if it were to extend genuine assistance to farmers.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap told Baguio and Benguet media last week that highland farmers should learn to fight competition. He also announced that he would be opening 134 new drop points for Benguet vegetables, implying the elimination of middlemen. The bagsakan (outlets), said Yap, will get vegetables directly from farmers and in turn distribute produce directly to consumers, cutting layers of middlemen. “That way, farmers will get more for their produce.”

Breaking the cartel

Bagyan, however, said that it would not be the farmers who would benefit from the trade proposal, because traders will still be around between them and the end-consumers because of the presence of what he described as a “vegetable cartel.”

“All it takes is the political will of government to break up the cartel,” Bagyan said, referring to a shadowy organization of traders who allegedly control trade not only in temperate vegetables but also other agricultural produce like rice, corn, sugar, poultry and other livestock. “There exists no traders’ organization but everyone in the trade seems to have the same language.”

The problem lies in the government’s inability to control prices, said Bagyan, as he maintained that the the cartel dictates even farm gate prices.

Yap and Benguet mayors Nestor Fongwan of La Trinidad and Concepcion Balao of Atok visited the Balintawak, Quezon City market, one of the largest drop points for Benguet and Mountain province vegetables Wednesday and found that prices in the said bagsakan are high.

Cauliflower, for example, sells at P40 ($0.83, based on a an exchange rate of P48.10 per US dollar) while it is sold for as low as P12 ($0.25) in La Trinidad. Broccoli, meanwhile, sells at P50 ($1.04) in Balitawak as opposed to only P28 ($0.58) also in La Trinidad. Carrots cost P18 ($0.37), more than twice the P7 ($0.15) price in Benguet.

Prices are even lower at farm gate, according to some farmers who said that cabbages cost only P2 ($0.04) per kilo before the frost hit some parts of Atok, Mankayan and Kibungan in January and February. Because of the frost, however, Benguet farmers opted not to harvest, leaving the vegetables to rot in the gardens.

Need for cold storage

Aside from establishing new drop points in the metropolis, the agriculture department also wants to concentrate on post-harvest facilities such as cold storage for produce, which Apit Tako welcomes.

“Cold storage facilities will help farmers because of the perishable nature of temperate vegetables,” said Bagyan, who is equally apprehensive that if the government does not manage such facilities, it would be corporate interests that would benefit from such facilities. “Farmers and their families should also be taught appropriate technology for storage and transport of produce.”

Bagyan said that there is “very little effort” on the part of government to put up cold storage facilities. He said that the facility in La Trinidad is but a show window of how government has been neglecting agriculture. “It should be available when farmers need it, not just when businessmen could profit from it.”

He said that if mechanisms for the operation of the cold storage plant are not in place, farmers or their families would only end up employees to multinational agribusiness that would control the facility. “They will be hired as packers and cutters instead.”

Earlier, the La Trinidad mayor said that there have been negotiations with Dole Asia on a cold storage facility. Dole Philippines, he said, is considering a contract-farming scheme with Benguet vegetable producers, providing them with “alternative livelihood” when it sets up a cold storage facility.

The Department of Agriculture (DA)’s Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) program for high-value commercial crops lists the establishment of cold chain and cold storage facilities among its priority infrastructure projects. Under the program, government encourages private sector investment in post-harvest processing, bulk handling and cold chain facilities. The program shall put up terminal markets and trading posts, including cold chain, bulk handling and grading facilities established by the government and the business sector. Northern Dispatch / Posted by(

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