Farmers seek government shield against smuggled vegetables

FRESHNESS OVERLOAD In this photo taken in October 2020, business at the vegetable trading post in the capital Benguet, La Trinidad, continues as an assortment of fresh produce is unloaded there daily for shipment to various markets in the city of Baguio, Metro Manila and other parts of the country. . —EV ESPIRITU

BAGUIO CITY, Benguet, Philippines – An alliance of Cordillera region farmer groups wants stronger protection for local farmers as it accuses government trade liberalization policies of smuggling vegetables and the importation of “cheap” and “dangerous” agricultural products.

In a statement released on Monday, Alyansa Dagiti Pesante iti Taéng Kordilyéra (Apit Tako) said imports and smuggling of vegetables had compounded farmers’ losses during the pandemic.

“In recent years, the country has generally seen an influx of vegetables from China and other countries, both smuggled and legally imported, whenever the prices of local produce rise,” the group said. .

He said that when prices were down due to importation or low demand, local farmers were forced to get rid of their produce because it spoiled quickly, unlike vegetables from China which would have been treated with conservatives.

About 58,000 households in Benguet, Ifugao and Highland Province depend on market gardening as their primary source of livelihood in 2020, according to the Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA) second quarter report this year.

The three provinces produced about 80 percent of the country’s highland vegetables while the region as a whole produced 130,538 metric tonnes of cabbage, potato, tomato, camote (sweet potato), cassava, eggplant and onion. in 2020, according to the same PSA data.

In the same year, farmers in these highland provinces harvested 235,777 tons of habichuelas (beans), banana blossom, broccoli, cauliflower, kangkong, lettuce, pechay, peanuts, green beans, squash, okra, squash. , ginger, pepper, carrots, gabi (yam), radish and garlic.

Best producer

The Cordillera remains the top producer of cabbage and potatoes, accounting for 81 percent and 88 percent of the country’s harvest, respectively, PSA said.

According to Apit Tako, the liberalization of the rice market and the response to the pork crisis have shown that the government “prefers to import agricultural products rather than helping local farmers and improving national production”.

“Same sound [government] actions against the smuggling of vegetables are belated, haphazard, timid and weak, ”said Apit Tako.

In a separate statement on Tuesday, the militant farmer group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said increasing incidents of vegetable smuggling were a “direct consequence” of the increase in imports.

SHOPPING CENTER The La Trinidad vegetable trading post is one of the biggest job generators in Benguet province, providing livelihoods even to porters, truckers and small vendors. —EV ESPIRITU

“Contraband goes through the same processes and the same vessels as legal importation. Whenever agricultural trade is further liberalized, technical smuggling – misrepresentation, undervaluation and misclassification – also becomes easier, ”said Rafael Mariano, President Emeritus of the KMP.

Trace Source

But Agriculture Secretary William Dar, during an online press briefing on September 28, vowed to confiscate all smuggled vegetables from China that had flooded the local market.

Dar said the government was already in the process of determining the source of the smuggled vegetables that entered the country, adding that these would also be screened to ensure food security.

Mariano had called on the Customs Office (BOC) to go after large-scale vegetable smugglers and not just small retailers.

“The stalls only distribute. Those who need to be caught and punished urgently are those who are facilitating the entry of huge volumes of contraband vegetables. The government should inspect warehouses, not just market stalls, ”he said.

Mariano said the 4.8 million pesos of carrots, garlic and other contraband agricultural products seized by BOC in Tondo, Manila, on September 30 were only “the tip of a gigantic iceberg. “.

“If three small stalls can sell such huge amounts of contraband vegetables, what can the warehouses sell?” Mariano asked.

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