Saving Agar- Agar Growers From Unscrupolous Traders
LET ME relate to you what happened during my recent trip to Zamboanga City to continue the journey which I called Biyaheng Bukid.
I had a working meeting with different groups representing the agriculture and fishery sectors in Zamboanga City and what I heard were the all too familiar stories of government neglect.
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Rice farmers told me of the lack of irrigation and an irrigation system which is already 18 years in the making at the cost of over P80-million but which is not working until today.
As a result, the average rice production in the Zamboanga City area is a pitiful 3.5-metric tons during the rainy season and a measly 1.7-metric tons during the dry season.
That makes Zamboanga City a net importer of rice even if it has the potential of producing enough for its residents.
Vegetable farmers also complained of their lack of access to good seeds and good roads to bring their products to the market.
The saddest story, however, came from the Agar-agar (seaweeds or carrageenan) growers who are mostly Muslim coastal dwellers.
The Agar-agar farmers told me that the traders who used to buy the seaweeds for P8 per kilo are now just buying these for only P2 per kilo.
I immediately sensed that these seaweeds growers are victims of unscrupulous traders who form themselves into a cartel controlling the trading of Agar-agar.
My reaction was immediate.
I promised the AgarAgar farmers that I will be back with people who would help them organize so that we could put up a processing facility which would turn their raw seaweeds into powder which is used in the production of a lot of food products including ice cream.
There was discernible relief in the faces of the poor Agar-agar growers who now could hope for a better reward for their sacrifices.
But while I was looking at them, I asked myself how many more poor farmers like them in other parts of the country are left to suffer from the abuses of unscrupulous traders and government neglect.
Realising this, I told myself that "Biyaheng Bukid," the journey across the country to see for myself the conditions of the poor farmers and fisherfolk must continue.
I would do it even more frequently when I become Agriculture Secretary because by then, I would already have the power and resources to fulfill the commitment of President Rody Duterte that change is coming for the Filipino people.
Colorful vintas of Zamboanga City. ( Mindanao Examiner Photo)