Benguet is considered to be the luckiest province in the entire country primarily because it is where the largest agricultural trading center is situated. The government went out of its way to allocate over a billion pesos to fund the construction of the trading center through a multipartite agreement whereby all concerned stakeholders have to support the operation of the vegetable trading center for the benefit of the farmers relying on vegetable production as their major source of income.
Agriculture, specifically vegetable production, is the primary source of income of some 300,000 individuals based in Benguet, some parts of Ifugao and Mountain Province while some parts of Kalinga, Apayao, Abra, Kalinga among others are said to be producers of rice and corn aside from other high value crops. Generally, the cordillera provides at least 80 percent of the country’s demand for highland vegetables that is why the production of the region is critical in dictating the prevailing prices of vegetables locally and nationally.
The newly established Benguet Agri Pinoy Trading Center (BPTC) was supposed to be operational before the end of term of the previous administration to have a legacy for the farmers but the inability of former agriculture officials to effectively and efficiently address the problems that cropped up resulted to its being non-operational amidst the sugar-coated commitments in the past that it will be the one to help improve the state of vegetable production regionwide. The global competitiveness of local agriculture products triggered by the implementation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Free Trade Agreement is one of the major problems of farmers because their produce will be directly competing with similar products from our ASEAN neighbors.
Philippine products, through the assistance of concerned government agencies, must start to be at part with their global counterparts, particularly in terms of marketing and packaging as well as the adoption of the latest technology of production. The country’s agricultural produce might lag behind in the international market if concerned stakeholders refuse to adhere to the introduction of drastic changes to make the produce of farmers competitive globally.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent visit to China where agreements were signed on the agricultural exchange for both countries seem to be another setback. Previously, agriculture industry stakeholders in the province fear about the smuggling of vegetables that nearly killed the local vegetable industry over a decade ago. Now, Chinese agricultural products which are of better quality than the local produce are expected to be legally brought into the country and will directly compete with locally produced ones, thus, putting at stake the viability of vegetables produced in the different parts of the country.
It is ironic that the primary opposition of the farmers in patronizing the operation of the BAPTC is the fees to be charged them which was reduced from P1 to only P0.26 per kilo of vegetables traded in the facility. Aside from being guaranteed of market for their produce, farmers will also have access to appropriate packaging and technical assistance for their production apart from credit facilities that will ease the burden from the farmers in financing their production annually.
Recently, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol approved the proposal of the 6-member BAPTC project steering committee for the municipal government of La Trinidad and the State-owned Benguet State University (BSU) to jointly manage the operation of the facility. However, the largest agriculture trading center remains to be a white elephant at this time because of the hard headedness of farmers to patronize the facility because they are actually being manipulated by enterprising middlemen who control how to dispose their products because they were the ones who financed their production up to the harvesting of their crops.
We believe farmers should not wait for the day that Chinese products will be legally brought into the country through the recent signed agreements because it will give a telling blow to the lucrative industry passed on to us by our ancestors. It is high time for farmers to embrace change because the more that we stand firm on patronizing the traditional way of producing, marketing and packaging our crops, then it will be too late for us to catch up with the fast changing trends. Let us not think of the initial amount that we will spend for trading our crops with the BAPTC but let us be mindful of the long-term benefits of upgrading our ways of handling our produce. Let us remember that every Filipino has a stake in the put up of the facility through the taxes they paid to the government that is why it is a mortal sin to them if we tend to disregard the benefits built in the facility.
We salute the efforts of concerned local officials to continue bending their knees just to address the plight of the farmers. The process should always to be two-way scenario. Our government officials already walked several miles away but the farmers seem to have remained in their position to where they were situated before without walking a single mile as a sign of their commitment to maximize the potentials of the facility which was built for them.