Calls to “go and buy local” to revive and strengthen the local agriculture sector and food manufacturing industry to boost food supply and bolster economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic are gaining momentum, according to policy think tank Stratbase ADR Institute.
Industry groups see it as a direct way to alleviate the plight of millions of farmers and agricultural workers.
Dindo Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute, said buying local produce would not only help the agriculture and food sector raise their production and productivity but also reduce importation to the minimum.
Speaking during virtual town hall meeting on ensuring the food supply chain organized by Stratbase ADR, Manhit stressed the need for the local food supply to cater to local demand, even as he cited the agricultural sector for being the lone sector of the economy that exhibited growth during the pandemic and lockdown.
Buying local food products will strengthen the local agricultural production cycle, increase yield and food availability and access, leading to a more balanced supply of locally produced and imported food and agricultural produce, Manhit said.
Industry leaders said the agriculture and food sector continue to face the challenge of importation even as Agriculture undersecretary Ariel Cayanan points out that that the government policy is that importation “should always be the last resort.”
In the same forum, Rex Aggarado, spokesperson of the Philippine Association of Meat Processors Inc. appealed to the government to rationalize importation by imposing a “Philippine Inc.” cap on certain canned products.
He noted that a popular imported brand of luncheon meat is back on supermarket shelves, entering the Philippines at a low three-percent import duty, giving local manufacturers a hard time competing with.
Nikki Garcia, president of the Philippine Association of Feed Millers Inc., called for a balanced policy on exportation and importation.
Garcia said that a recalibrated policy would facilitate agricultural recovery, operations, and production systems.
In this manner, agricultural opportunities and livelihoods are locally cultivated and maintained in the sector, she said.
Manhit noted that at a recent hearing on the budget of the Agriculture Department, senators expressed concerns over continuing food importation.
Senator Cynthia Villar appealed to DA officials to prohibit the importation of rice, corn, feed wheat and other alternatives during harvest season to protect farmers.
Senators also made known their position to disallow importation of whole chicken and reserve importation of deboned chicken for commercial processors only, Manhit noted.
Senator Miguel Zubiri also noted the difficulties hog and poultry raisers face saying, “there’s the pandemic, and on top of that, they are also still trying to rise from the damage of the African swine fever … and struggling with low prices, because of import dumping and technical smuggling.”
Villar said she supports the industry's call for a halt to chicken imports amid the current supply glut.
Manhit said the momentum gained by the “go, local, buy local campaign” raises the necessity of crafting an agricultural recovery plan that takes into account the cooperation and meeting of the minds between government, industry stakeholders, and the whole agribusiness sector.
“While the government heeds the needs and concerns of the agribusiness and working population, the various agricultural stakeholders must cooperate not only with government but with each other as well,” he said.
“Through such synergy, a better and consultative agricultural plan could be made. Over importation could also be avoided in the presence of a roadmap since this poses serious economic and food safety risks and threats to both the industry and public,” he said.