Farmers’ coop bares its take on free trade

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By Delmar Carino

The Recloser

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

THE Benguet Farmers Marketing Cooperative (BFMC) recently gave its bold take on this corner’s piece on the fate of our local farmers vis-à-vis free trade under the Asian Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) and other trade pacts our government has committed to obey.

Agusta Balanoy, BFMC’s chief marketing officer, sadly said our institutions on whose lap fall the concern on free trade are still sort of groping for measures towards preparing for trade liberalization. We are not saying that nothing has been done or nothing has been started for measures to cushion the impact of free trade. It’s more of the lack of a concerted effort on the part of government to see to it that all systems are ready when foreign vegetables, enjoying relaxed rules on import quota and tariffs, start pouring in by 2015.

Ms. Balanoy was right when she said that preparing our farmers and the local vegetable industry for free trade cannot be done overnight. And true indeed, one needs to look at how the middlemen controlled marketing system at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post can be overhauled. The BFMC, which Gov. Fongwan believes is one way of empowering our farmers in trade, admitted that it had to immerse itself into the wet market to be able to secure its own links and network of the vegetable supply and market chain en route to cornering juicy market contracts.

The BFMC, in a report furnished the Recloser, underscored what’s the real score for our farmers. “No. Benguet is not ready. The farmers are not ready. Their products are not competitive enough. Majority of the farmers and other stakeholders of the industry are aware of the entry of the imported vegetables. But as to the realization of how it will affect their lives, their livelihood and even the question, if ever it will affect their lives, has not dawned on them yet,” Balanoy said.

The struggle then, or better, the challenge, is to hurdle the structural flaws of local production and marketing on one hand and to secure from government more deliberate safety nets on the other. This will be difficult since the government will have to balance the interests of local farmers with the interests at stake for the country on its treaty commitments.

Locally, the BFMC has batted for measures that we have heard then but perhaps didn’t mind -- continuous education for farmers, provision of low cost but environment friendly farm inputs, mass production of high yielding varieties, crop programming, improved irrigation and greenhouse and a reliable IT system for data base and market monitoring. The BMFC though asked authorities to do their part.

“Leaders and officials should push for amendments of the free trade agreement during summits of GATT-WTO. If am not mistaken, a WTO summit will be held this December in Singapore or Thailand. Leaders should be aggressive enough to request for amendments in favor of the local vegetable industry. Like what? Lessen the vegetable commodities in the list of products to be covered by free trade. Benguet can actually produce the country’s need of vegetables. The province just must have to ensure the volume of supply needed,” Balanoy said
I agree with the BFMC when it said that in order for the province to be able to compete come free trade, the farmers must seriously consider improving three facets of the vegetable chain -- packing and packaging of vegetables, reasonable pricing anchored on production that is market driven and security of supply.

But admittedly, these are easier said than done. We really have to digest the whole system of the local vegetable industry to understand its matrix.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on December 12, 2013.


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