It is election time again and many campaigns are now focused on what the candidates have given to the people. Even representatives who are supposed to be legislators have their campaigns focused on the gifts or projects they brought to their district but not what they legislated in the House of Congress that could have helped elevate the lives of their constituents.
The function of a Congressman is not only about finding funding for projects needed for the represented districts. Any Congressman will always find a way to increase funding for his district. But the most important a Representative must do is to craft laws that will help and protect the people he or she represents.
For Benguet, one of the most important if not the most important law that it could use is the protection of farmers. If farmers are given protection through laws, they can have enough buying power to live a quality life and will be able to give education to their children. Other ventures and businesses can follow if you give the majority of the citizens buying power.
Vegetable production is the main industry in Benguet and we always have sustainable production, thanks to the industrious people of Benguet. We can say that supply most of the time is enough. But the demand is not always high due to several factors.
During the last two years, we have witnessed a lot of depressing scenes where vegetables are thrown away over roadsides or farmers express their dismay over unsold vegetables and have given them away for free instead. Criticism against the farmers for throwing away their vegetables instead of donating them added more stress to the farmers. But bringing these vegetables to the city to be donated will incur more expenses for the farmers. A ton of cabbage will cost two thousand to four thousand pesos to transport depending on where it is coming from.
These issues had been going on for years but the pandemic has made it harder for the farmers. During the nationwide quarantine, the plight of the farmers worsened when demand for highland temperate vegetables went down. Adding to the woe of farmers are the more affordable but questionable smuggled or imported vegetables flooding the market.
Smuggling of vegetables has been happening for a long time but because many restaurants and hotels closed down during the pandemic, no one will absorb the entry of the more affordable smuggled vegetables and they now began to flood the market usually supplied by local farmers, resulting to lesser demand for highland vegetables.
China heavily subsidizes its agricultural sector. Because of their subsidies, their agricultural products are flooding the world market heavily affecting international prices. The whole world is competing against China and complaints were submitted to World Trade Organization (WTO) because it consistently exceeded its WTO agricultural subsidy limits. With China as an agricultural superpower and our government not doing much about the entry of China vegetables, our farmers are heavily affected.
On the Philippine Statistics study in 2018, the average expense per hectare of cabbage is P144,000.00 with an average yield of 15,392 kilos. Per kilogram production cost was computed at 9.40. But these statistics have recently increased. Just last year, farmers experienced a price increase for urea fertilizer from 1,500 per sack to 2,100. Twenty-five grams of cabbage seedlings rose from 780 to 1,100 pesos. Prices for insecticides also experienced an increase.
The farmers believe that if the prices of farm products are lowered or perhaps partly subsidized, 15 pesos would be a good enough price. But with the current situation, this is just for survival. Unlike China, the Philippines don’t subsidize farmers and they are basically on their own constantly facing uncertainty every planting season.
And it is not only the livelihood of our farmers that we are aiming to safeguard but the health of our citizens. The chemicals we use on our farms are supposed to lapse for a week after spraying. This will ensure that we will not ingest them when they are harvested. The reason why our vegetables decay or rot naturally. China products, however, can last for weeks or months that only chemical solutions can prolong. These chemicals can be detrimental to those who regularly ingest them.
No matter how many roads are built if the prices of vegetables can’t be stabilized, our farmers will always be living a gamble with fate. As previously mentioned, any Congressman will always find a way to increase funding for his district and records show that the budget for Benguet continues to increase yearly. The only difference between then and now is, that in the past, there was no controversy about how funding was acquired.
What we need are laws to mitigate the rampant smuggling and laws to subsidize or mitigate the constantly increasing prices of farm products such as fertilizers, insecticides, and fungicides. Without these laws, we may see a decline in the number of farmers in the future and an increase in overseas contract workers. Many youngsters who weren’t able to continue their studies always end up as farmers but some have sought employment as drivers or domestic workers and helpers abroad. our farmers are constantly on the lookout for better opportunities.
Some of our laws have increased woes for farmers like the Rice Tarrification law that greatly reduced prices of local rice but no subsidy has been given to local farmers. These laws favored the middlemen who import rice. What we need are laws to favor our farmers.
These are the issues that our representatives should find solutions to in Congress. Among Benguet’s candidates, who can help curb the rampant smuggling of vegetables? If one is known to smuggle, can he contest others who do it? Can one who never experienced the hardship of farming firsthand understand the plight of our kailyans? We can never know for sure what they will do when they win but it’s easy to see how they performed in the past.
And this also should advance to our national candidates. Who among them has authored bills and who has agenda to improve the agriculture industry? Will our farmers shun popularity contests where money and received gifts are the basis of votes? Let us hope our voters will study the background of the candidates and find someone with track records, and not because one is giving gifts here and there yet no background can be found anywhere. If a candidate has a prior track record, it’s easy to google.