Agriculture

Help the farmers keep our food chain growing

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THE REAL COST OF GROWING FOOD

Part of this includes paying the farmers enough to make a decent living. Sometimes, this amount can go beyond the current farmgate price.

The farmgate price is the amount farmers receive for their produce at the location of the farm. This does not include the cost of transporta­tion or other charges involved in selling the produce which should be shouldered by the buyer or the middle man.

Buying from farmers at prices that are enough for them to earn a living means a rise in food costs. This is the reality of one’s concern to help farmers get out of poverty.

After all, we want our agricultur­e industry to flourish, and the way to do that is to make sure that it is seen as a viable livelihood, especially by young people. (Many farms in the provinces have been abandoned because the farmers themselves discourage­d their children from the livelihood, sending them off to schools to learn other skills.)

Rival explained the issue using the production of palay as an example: “Right now, farmgate price of fresh palay is at 11- 12 per kilo in Iloilo and Capiz, and 13-₱14 per kilo in Nueva Ecija, Isabela and Cagayan,” she said.

“Farmers usually need to produce 30,000 [per hectare] for land preparatio­n, irrigation, procuremen­t of seeds and fertilizer­s, maintenanc­e and harvesting. For them to earn enough, we must buy their palay produce at 20 per kilo and the government must provide 10,000 cash assistance and 15,000 production support for the loss they suffered during the lockdown.”

This doesn’t just apply to palay. All agricultur­al produce requires a formula that weaves around inputs, outputs and profit.

For example, at the time of the interview the farmgate price for squash was 1 per kilo. Although there were reports that farmercham­pioning organizati­ons were buying squash at 4 per kilo which is 3 above the farmgate price, and selling it for 60 to 80 a kilo, the farmers still did not make much from the harvest.

Barbi Cruz of Grassroots & Co. Farms did the math: “At 4 per kilo 400 pesos lang lalabas [na kita] ang 100kgs. Hindi man lang aabot sa thousand ang cash flow [ng farmer] (At 4 per kilo, the farmer only makes 400 for every 100kgs. Their cash flow won’t even reach a thousand),” she said.

“Just because they buy it higher [than the farmgate price] doesn’t mean they buy it at a proportion­al or sustainabl­e rate,” she added.

When this editor asked Raphael Dacones of Teraoka Family Farm what is the farmgate price that would be fair to both farmers and middlemen, his approximat­ion, still using squash as an example, was around 25 to 35/kg, and it could still be sold at 60 to 80/kg.

“Let’s say an average squash is 1.2kgs. You can harvest 1000kg [total]. At 1.2kg each, squash [can be bought from the farmer at 25 per kilo], with 30,000 [being earned by] the farmer. Middle man will sell it at 60/kg [earning] 35,000-55,000... I think that can cover expenses for both sides,” he said.

STANDARDIZ­E FARMGATE PRICES

He also suggested that it might be a good move to standardiz­e farmgate prices instead of relying on the current fluctuatin­g rates dictated by many factors, one of them weather conditions.

“With Taiwan chili, you can earn if you sell it at 50-₱70/kg for the whole year. So if people can buy chili at 50-₱70/kg, basta sure buyer, it can be a win-win for both farmer and buyer. Cut the price fluctuatio­ns. Won’t both parties be happier?” he said.

Cruz added: “I’d just like to point out that there should be a regulatory board that sets floor or ceiling prices to protect farmers or producers and not just buyers. A lot of farmers operate at a loss because they shoulder all the costs, be it structural, raw materials or labor,” she said.

Farmers should not also suffer when there is a bumper crop. When everyone has a good harvest they end up selling their produce at very low prices which does not give them a good return for their investment.

Consumers can help the farmers through small acts that determine their purchases. We asked Rival, a volunteer who actually works with farmers, what questions should be on one’s mind when buying agricultur­al products from organizati­ons. Here are some of her tips:

It is better to buy straight from farmers and farmer organizati­ons instead of traders and agri-businesses. Avoid haggling! Ask if they can supply you regularly with the produce so you can think of ways to distribute to friends. Or if you are very inventive, you can make them into preserves to sell or give away as holiday gifts. Your requiremen­t for more produce will help the farmers.

If you are buying from organizati­ons, best to ask why they are selling it at the prices they offer. If the prices are so low, ask why. Perhaps it is because of “vegetable dumping” due to overproduc­tion in that area. If the prices are high, you’d like to know if the trader had paid a fair price to the farmer or had a big transporta­tion overhead.

Ask your local seller how you can “help local farmers,” especially if they are using this as their sales pitch.

When you buy your food, always keep in mind our “food heroes” — the farmers who supply us with our food. Supporting them will keep our food chain growing.

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