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.
Criticisms to the farmers for throwing away their vegetables instead of donating them added more stress to the farmers. These issues had been going on for years but the pandemic has made it worse for the farmers.
Tan Dulag who was a journalism graduate went home to start farming but recently decided to go back searching for a regular job because of the uncertain prices of vegetables. He left his farm to be cared for by his brother but he doubted if the vegetables will ever get fair prices.
“I just left some of the vegetables to rot because the price is not enough to bring back expenses. The trucking will just incur more expenses and the price if it will ever be bought might not even be enough to pay for the transport,” he said. Trucking from his place to the vegetable trading post is about 3 to 4 pesos per kilo and the current trading price at that time was 3 to 5 pesos per kilo.
This is also the reason why farmers opt to throw away their vegetables or leave them to rot in the farms to avoid further expenses.
During the pandemic, the plight of the farmers worsened when demand for highland temperate vegetables went down. Adding to the woe of farmers are the more affordable smuggled or imported vegetables flooding the market.
In his Facebook reply to the issue, Arturo Tudias who is a farmer from Kapangan said that “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 a lesser demand for highland vegetables.”
And true enough, according to several truckers, their deliveries were affected during the pandemic when a lot of hospitality businesses were forced to close, drastically reducing the consumers of farm produce. Even after the ECQ, demand is still very low and this low demand is being supplied by the more affordable smuggled or imported vegetables.
China heavily subsidizes its agricultural sector. Because of their subsidies, their agricultural products are flooding the world market heavily affecting international prices.
In a Washington Post article in March 2019, Beijing provided an estimated $212 billion in farm subsidies in 2016, significantly more than the European Union ($100 billion), United States ($33 billion).
The article says that “subsidies now make up a significant portion of earnings for Chinese farmers, accounting for 38 percent of their revenue for wheat, 29 percent for corn, and 32 percent for rice. By comparison, U.S. subsidies constitute 8 percent of U.S. farm earnings for wheat, 4 percent for corn, and 2 percent for rice.”
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. Without subsidy, we may see a decline in the number of farmers in the future and an increase in overseas contract workers.
Jerico Damoslog, a farmer from Buguias, Benguet said that the price of cabbage should be at least 15 pesos to cover expenses or at least break even and have a little profit. From the 15 pesos, 2 pesos would be automatically deducted from the trucking. Farms located farther from the trading post pay higher trucking services. The remaining 13 pesos will be used to pay up loaned supplies like seeds, insecticides, fertilizers including food supplies to workers. Whatever is left will be divided between the farmers and their financiers.
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.
Damoslog said 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.
Damoslog said that “when they don’t get good prices, their debts to their suppliers continue to add up.” Their hopes always lie to good prices so they can pay up their accumulated loans.
For many elections, several politicians promised to address the farmers’ concerns but these problems are never resolved. The fate of the farmers is uncertain and the entries of China vegetables continue to worsen their dilemma. And as they regularly gamble with fate every planting season, they also gamble with fate every election hoping the next one will be the solution to their unending predicament.
With this trend going on for a long time now, many opted to abandon farming and seek permanent employment elsewhere like Tan Dulag. Many sought entry to be part of the Philippine National Police, the biggest employee of Cordillerans at the moment. Although many youngsters who can’t continue their studies always end up as farmers, many are seeking employment as drivers or domestic workers and helpers abroad. We still have many farmworkers but they are always on the lookout for better opportunities elsewhere. CCT