News of imported carrots that are available for cheap in our markets plagued national TV early this week, much to the dismay of our farmers up north who are now dealing with supply that remains to be sold given this. Already, some community groups are initiating a group buy, rescue buy and even a revenge buy to help our distraught farmers with this unexpected turn of events.
Such is the nature of business. The barriers of entry for a market such as the Philippines may not be as strict and therefore competitors can easily come and go as they please. Competitors are there to serve a growing market looking for fresh produce at a more cost-effective price. Quality check is not strictly enforced, and this important process is of course left to the consumer.
To stay afloat, businesses have to stay competitive. Some bring their costs down to enter the market, or some tweak their services and offering. Staying competitive is an ongoing and iterative process. I could understand the plight of our poor farmers — they must have planted crops months before and come harvest season, unknown and unannounced competitors came into play, quickly robbing them off of their business. What can be done?
It is also worth taking note that the average age of a Filipino farmer at this point is 53 years old, compared to just 46 in 1966. This was highlighted in the June issue of Philippine Journal of Science, a quarterly publication of the Science and Technology Information Institute of the Department of Science and Technology. In the report, UP Los Baños professor Florencia Palis further shared that “farmers don’t wish same hard life for kids.”
But must it really be the same hard life for the next generation, considering what is available out there?
I will park the conversation on mindset for another time. But in relation to how farmers can be competitive, it may be good to study the technologies available. There is a threat to our food security with the aging of our farmers but looking into technology and other similar programs may help in working out a sustainable program in the long haul. Our government agencies have plenty of programs suited for farmers in terms of capabilities available that can be looked into, if only to remain competitive. An example is vertical farming that may give more productivity and yield to our farmers. There are also many agri-tech companies already set up.
Just recently, I saw online an oversupply of tons of tomatoes up north that needed some rescuing. Of course, one reader wrote an obvious comment asking “why can they not make tomato sauce or tomato paste out it?” Good question.
Perhaps the challenge also lies in knowing where to get the information. Community groups who maintain close relationships and interactions with the farmers as middlemen could also look into giving them options on what can be done since they see both sides (farmer and the market). These groups can in parallel work with government agencies or with similar organizations looking at agriculture in sharing the available programs suited for our farmers in order for them to stay competitive.
Kay Calpo Lugtu is the chief operating officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation firm. Her advocacies include nation-building, sustainability education and financial literacy. The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org