By Zac B. Sarian
Food is everybody’s business. Whether you are an ordinary laborer, office employee, professional, entrepreneur or a rich businessman, you have a stake in making sure that affordable healthy food is accessible to each one of us. If the lowly laborer or employee can’t afford the high price of food, he becomes malnourished and he becomes a burden to the healthcare system of the country. He becomes unproductive. Ensuring the supply of affordable food is therefore necessary.
Of course, that is not as simple as it may seem. Otherwise our bright economic thinkers, agriculturists, agribusiness experts, and entrepreneurs would have solved the various challenges that crop up every now and then. Bright and not-so-bright ideas are offered all the time. But the problems regarding affordable food seem to become more and more difficult to solve.
The problem is that there are so many interests that have to be served. It would be very presumptuous of us to offer an all encompassing strategy to address the problem of food for each one, rich or poor. So in this article, let me just focus on what can be done for the small-scale farmers so that they can become economically secure and would be able to contribute to overall food security.
Over 80% of farmers in the Philippines are small-scale. So if we can only assist them to become economically viable, they would be in a good position to contribute to the food supply in the country. There are a number of ways to equip the small-scale farmers to become profitable farm operators.
1. Provide him the skills to become a progressive farmer. This means hands-on knowledge about good agricultural practices in growing crops and farm animals, including fish. Develop in him business sense so he can easily spot money-making opportunities. This will mean that the Department of Agriculture will maintain a corps of dedicated skilled extension workers.
2. After equipping him with production techniques, provide him access to affordable financing. This means financing that has a term of more than two years so he can have enough time to generate income to pay his loan.
3. Assist him by linking him to the market. The government should encourage private investors to put up trading posts in strategic places where farmers can sell their harvest.
4. Encourage farmers to form clusters that can produce volumes required by processing companies and institutional buyers. With the right leadership and business savvy, the cluster could even come up with their own postharvest processing plants to add value to their harvests.
Crop and livestock insurance
A former agriculture secretary whom we met recently is advocating that besides subsidizing seeds and fertilizers, the government should also subsidize crops and livestock insurance for small farmers. Not only the value of the damage, but also the projected profit of the farmer should be insured.
The former government official stressed that farming is very risky, especially to small-scale farmers. Typhoons, drought, floods, landslides, earthquakes, and outbreaks of pests and diseases, not to mention effects of certain political decisions can cause a lot of damage. If a farmer’s rice crop, for instance, is totally devastated by flood, the likelihood is that the farmer’s family would go hungry. Maybe, he will have a hard time getting a loan so he could continue farming.
Organic farming subsidy
An American development economist who read a story in my blog has another idea – heavily subsidizing organic farming and heavily taxing junk food.
The fellow is Curtis Metzgar who said that he has made the Philippines as his adopted home. He writes: “Since moving here, one aspect of the Philippines that I’ve grown very concerned with is the consumption of junk food. The consumption of junk food has tremendous cost to the healthcare system and the solid waste management system, among others just as smoking does. The Philippine government has taken very positive action with smoking, and in my opinion, they need to take an equally harsh stance on the topic of junk food. But how to do it is the million dollar question.”
He continues: “Taking the position that most of every peso spent in the Philippines stays in the Philippines, heavy taxation of junk food is a start since many junk foods are produced out of the country. Since high quality vegetables are out of the budget range of many Filipinos, subsidizing organic farmers heavily would be the next subsidy I would initiate if I were in charge of the situation. I specify organic farmers because farmers that aren’t organic farmers are generally larger, more capital intensive farmers, who use pesticides, most of which originate out of the country and mechanical capital (tractors, harvesters, etc.) which also originates out of the country. Organic farming is more labor intensive and utilizes local labor.”
There you are. We are sure there are many other ideas that other bright people are thinking about.