By Mae Lorraine Rafols Lorenzo
Images by Jovel Lorenzo
There’s a common mood hovering among farmers from Luzon to Mindanao in last week’s first ever ‘TienDA Farmers and Fishermen’s Outlet’ spearheaded by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) held at the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Compound in San Andres, Manila—and that is confidence.
Available and affordable food for the Filipinos
A day before the fair was about to start, when most of the farmers and fishermen joining the event were still setting up their stalls, people we’re already buying most of their produce. So enthusiastic was the crowd that farmer Ardan Copas from Benguet already sold out his display by noon of the first day of the fair.
“Everything is sold out, we were really surprised,” said the farmer from Benguet in Filipino. Selling mostly highland vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, sayote, and beautiful green capsicums, Copas shared how the government, through DAF, has been extremely supportive of the farming industry particularly since President Rodrigo Duterte came into office.
“Most of the major trading centers were vastly improved, and it’s now easier for farmers to get a loan from the Department of Agriculture,” Copas said.
Straight from the farm Sec. Manny Piñol’s program cut the middleman and allowed customers to get in touch directly with farmers, a win-win situation on both sides. Cheaper prices for the client, and bigger profit for the farmer.
Sec. Manny Pinol showing off watermelons.
Farmers’ fun most of these farmers from Mindanao flew to Manila to show off their healthy produce.
The Tienda Farmers and Fishermen’s Outlet is just one of the initiatives being promoted by DAF’s secretary Manny Piñol.
“In line with President Rody Duterte’s vision of Available and Affordable Food for the Filipinos, the Dept. of Agriculture and Fisheries is now establishing a marketing system, which would ensure that the farmers’ produce would be made available to the consumers directly,” says Sec. Piñol.
With the said campaign, they hope to further lessen the influence of middlemen. “Before the farmers’ produce reaches the consumers, it goes through several layers and tiers of middlemen, traders, and dicers. The result is less earnings for the farmers and higher cost for the consumers,” the secretary said.
This type of marketing campaign is appreciated by the likes of farmers like Jay Galiste of the Pomelo Growers Association in Mlang, Cotabato, the hometown of the secretary. According to him, farmers, like those who are part of their co-op, have a hard time selling their produce to far places like Luzon, saying that the journey of their pomelos goes through different channels before they reach their preferred buyers in the city.
“We really need help with marketing our produce. Most of the time, we get buyers from Davao, but then when Davao harvests their own pomelo, they end up not buying from us anymore,” he said.
Which is why getting the DA’s support is a major help for their industry.
“We no longer have to look for a venue where we can sell our pomelo. In fact, it’s the DA that usually invites us through their regional offices to join their trade fairs. Because of this, we are able to sell our products at a good price.”
Galiste also shared that they hope the DA would be open to conducting more marketing and sales-related seminars to farmers like them who are located in far-flung areas.
From producers to consumers
The campaign to directly bring farmers’ produce to the market already began early this year. Last January, the DA was able to encourage large supermarkets like the SM Group, Robinsons Supermarket, Rustan’s Super Center, and even fast food groups like Shakey’s and Jollibee to get their onions straight from Filipino farmers.
This time around, the DA paid for all the transportation needs of the farmers, including the transport options of all their produce.
Emiliano Porgarillas of the Durian Industry Association in Davao, shared how the DA paid for their plane fares and cargo fee just so they can bring Davao durian to Manila.
“They paid for everything, even our plane tickets. In fact, in Davao, since durian is not in season, the selling price even in Davao is very high. But because we were able to bring the fruits here in Manila for free, we are able to sell them at dirt cheap prices,” Porgarillas said.
But aside from this, Porgarillas also shared how durian cooperatives were provided with free machines that they can use for their business.
“In Davao, you’re not allowed to just throw durian skins anywhere because it could be dangerous. So this time around we were given grinding machines needed for proper disposal of our waste products.”
The same advantage is being enjoyed by farmers like Warlito Abes Jr. of Roxas in Region 2. As chairman of the Roxas Fruits & Vegetables Marketing Coop, which harvests lowland vegetables like ampalaya, eggplant, upo, and squash, he shared that the new government has already assisted them in different ways such as providing heavy machineries needed for both planting and harvesting.
“They are also very supportive in letting us join trade fairs like this one. If a private group organizes trade fairs, the DA regional office usually handles all participation fees. It’s a big boost for us who are located quite far from the city,” he said.
As for the pineapple growers of Sta. Ana, Cagayan Valley, the DA assists them by providing the much-needed training and seminars on how create byproducts of the pineapples they grow.
“As long as you are part of a cooperative, the department is always willing to help. Now that we’ve mastered the planting and the harvesting, the next phase is the DA helping us produce better byproducts that can be exported to other countries,” said Ofelia Sapallo, manager of the Sta. Ana Pineapple Farmer Growers Producer Cooperative.
A heritage of farming
Most of the farmers who joined the trade fair have been tilling the soil for many years, most of whom are already third generation farmers in the family.
“I’ve been in the durian industry since my parents taught me how to grow the fruit,” said Porgarillas. “I did not have formal training, but we’ve been doing this for such a long time that we’ve mastered farming. Filipinos are industrious, we can grow whatever plants if we work hard for it.”
And as for Abes, he also shared that he will continue to be a farmer and teach it to his children even if they want to be something else aside from being a farmer in the future. “There are different types of farming and produce that will fit your needs. There are plants that can provide for what you need on a daily, monthly, and quarterly basis. You will never go hungry as long as you know how to till the land,” he said.
And with the government’s advocacy to link the farmers directly to the consumers, now is the best time ever to turn to the soil for a living.