TIME and again in Benguet, we see mounts of vegetables thrown and dumped by the roadsides. Or see and smell rotting vegetables in farmlands with farmers opting not to harvest them.
This is not a new phenomenon. This practice has been adopted by Benguet farmers ever since the vegetable industry came into being decades ago in the 1950s.
The coronavirus disease or Covid-19 is the main culprit this time. It has entered the country sometime in the month of March, and government had to find ways and means to contain it. Lockdown of communities and quarantine of the population had to be adopted. The fatal threat of this virus has caused a big dip into the working capital among farm families due to product losses.
The past months saw the dumping of tons of freshly harvested vegetables in Benguet and the new farm lands of Tinoc in the adjacent province of Ifugao. Cabbages, wongbok (Chinese cabbage), carrots, tomatoes, and other highland vegetables are among the healthy food thrown along roadsides and stiff ravines along Mountain Trail, presently known as Halsema Highway.
In some instances, farmers brought their produce to the La Trinidad Trading Post and sold at very minimal prices to partially recoup their investments. On the other hand, Tinoc farmers transported theirs to Lagawe, the capital of Ifugao, to be given free to residents; and to the Lamut trading center and Bambang in Nueva Vizcaya and sold at reduced prices.
For the most part, hectares of these edible food were not harvested in the vegetable plotted mountainous terraces and left to rot and decay that would serve as fertilizer for the next crop. There was no rhyme or reason to defray labor cost of harvesting and transporting the same when no profitable market is available.
There were several explanations for the vegetable ditching. The disruption of transportation to Metro Manila due to traffic control over the Covid-19 pandemic comes first and foremost.
Another is the failed demand since the population was practically under home quarantine for several weeks and could not go to market to make purchases. Last but not the least is over production of such variety of vegetables. As early as April, Dr. Melchor Diclas, Benguet governor, anticipated the situation of his province mates. Informed by a farmer who sold his produce at P10 per kilo instead of P22, he authorized the purchase of vegetables at reduced prices and distributed such to families under quarantine. Thus the Provincial Government took the initiative of helping out farmers partially recoup their investments, at the same time bringing food to those in need.
In Kiangan and Lagawe towns where Tinoc tomatoes and carrots were distributed free, town folks opened donation boxes for gasoline expenses of Tinoc farmers in appreciation.
It should be noted that some 200 tons of highland vegetables are daily transported to Metro Manila and the lowlands on any given day of the week.
This is disrupted by the invasion of the coronavirus that hit the country starting last March.
The woes of vegetable farmers in Benguet and others in the Cordillera are surmountable. Despite the high cost of production such as labor and fertilizer/pesticides, and transportation, the Igorot farmer can survive. He is resilient and industrious, and tough who is quick to recover from any unpalatable situation.
Truth to tell, they may not look rich by the way they dress up to the standards of their lowland brothers and sisters. Yet one would be surprise to know their per capita income is way above the average Pilipino in other parts of the country.
Lowland tourists visiting Baguio and the Cordillera are awed to see them use high-end vehicles and transport trucks which they consider luxurious loaded with vegetables en route to the trading centers in La Trinidad.