In a rare opportunity, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan graced a smallholder dairy carabao raisers’ forum in Nueva Ecija conducted at the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC) National Headquarters and Gene Pool, in the Science City of Muñoz last November 5.
In his speech, Senator Pangilinan emphasized the importance of solving farmers’ issues relative to their actual progress and development.
“Hindi po natin kayang sugpuin ang kahirapan kung hindi natin haharapin ang mga problema sa sektor ng agrikultura. Pagsama-samahin po natin ang ating mga kakayahan upang sama-sama din po tayong umusad patungo sa tagumpay (We cannot alleviate poverty if we will not give our full attention in solving the problems in the agriculture sector. Let us altogether pool our efforts and capabilities so that we can achieve success as one),” Senator Pangilinan said.
He also said that ensuring the success of farmers is one key move for the development of agriculture in the country.
With the theme “Kalabaw ko, yaman ko…handog sa pamilya ko”, the forum was attended by about 200 carabao raisers.
Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary for Special Concerns Bernadette Romulo-Puyat and Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) executive director Atty. Ronilo Beronio also graced the event with their active participation in the forum.
“The farmers’ forum was primarily conducted as a venue for smallholder dairy carabao raisers to freely discuss their issues and pressing concerns,” Wilma del Rosario, the PCC National Impact Zone program coordinator, said.
Also highlighted in the said forum were discussions on the questions raised by champion dairy carabao owners Engr. Jaime Ramos of Talavera, Marcelino Mislang of San Jose City and Belinda Parugrug of the Science City of Muñoz.
Ramos voiced out the concern of dairy farmers on putting the local dairy industry at risk of dissipation as the rates of duty on imported milk products will soon be eliminated as a result of schemes on ASEAN free trade.
He advocated for a stronger government support in protecting the stake of local dairy farmers in terms of extending the tariff that is currently imposed by the government at an equivalent of 1 to 3 percent of the value of imported dairy products.
“Sana ay ipagpatuloy ang tatlong porsiyentong buwis sa mga imported milk at milk products at sa halip na tanggalin ay gamitin na lamang ito para sa development ng local dairy industry lalo na sa infusion ng dairy animals (We are hoping that the current three percent tariff imposed on imported milk and milk products be continued and instead of eliminating, this tariff should be used for the development of the local dairy industry particularly in the infusion of dairy animals),” Ramos said.
“Hindi namin kayang lumaban sa mga malalaking kumpanya. Kailangan namin ng siguradong espasyo sa merkado para maipagpatuloy namin ang aming napiling hanap-buhay (We cannot compete with multi-million companies. We need an assured niche in the market for us to be able to survive with our chosen livelihood),” he added.
Senator Pangilinan responded positively to this concern. He pledged support to the appeal and promised to allocate funding for the dairy industry.
“Please submit a formal position paper on this and we will deal with it as soon as we can,” the Senator said.
Mislang, on the other hand, shared his experience during an educational tour in Thailand saying that its government was able to put in place a stable support system and marketing mechanism for its local dairy industry, thus ensuring profit for farmers in this sector. He said that farmers like him would be very grateful if the Philippine government can replicate such effort to support the Filipino dairy farmers.
He also shared the plan of his cooperative to implement a milk feeding program in Nueva Ecija that will ensure income for the dairy carabao farmers and good nutrition among school children.
USec Puyat said that DA Secretary Proceso Alcala will be informed of this move and that farmers can already count on the full support of the DA in this endeavor. She added that an inter-agency consultation will be scheduled among the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Trade and Industry to facilitate the implementation of the program.
Meanwhile, Parugrug, leader of a group of housewives who pinned new hope on the dairy buffalo, brought up the concern on how the government can help them have access to financing schemes. She said that access to soft loans would be a big help for the dairy farmers as funds are much needed to purchase facilities such as milking machine and to finance the marketing aspect of their production.
USec Puyat informed the farmers that there is Republic Act (RA) 10000 which provides for an agriculture and agrarian reform credit and financing system through banking institutions.
RA 10000, also known as “The Agri-Agra Reform Credit Act of 2009”, stipulates that all banking institutions should set aside at least 25 percent of their total loanable funds for agriculture and fisheries credit.
Through this scheme, USec Puyat added, farmers will have an equal access to opportunities that will maximize their productivity and thus sustain their economic growth.
Other questions raised during the farmers’ forum concerned rice seed subsidy, importation, regulating the price of palay and farmers’ access to postharvest facilities. They were aptly answered by Atty. Beronio and Deputy Director Arnel Apaga of the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech).