Ifugao tomato probe: sort of, short of

Kennon Road will remain closed to the public until further notice for the finishing of the various projects that were stopped during the lockdown. **RMC PIA-CAR

LAGAWE, IFUGAO – – It started out with an advisory that it was a meeting of the committee on agriculture, food, fisheries and aquatic resources and transformed into sort of quasi-inquiry on the longstanding problem on oversupply of tomatoes as well as bell peppers at a trading post in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya.
Indeed, there’s a lot of transformation during the four-hour meeting at the Sangguniang Panlalawigan Session Hall.
Over the years, tomato production is surely a big deal in Ifugao. Even traders of neighboring province of Nueva Vizcaya have long acknowledged this fact.
Representatives from the Nueva Vizcaya Agriculture Trade (NVAT) center in Bayombong hardly disputed the contention. Truth be told, they are buying huge volumes of tomatoes from Tinoc town. A handout at the meeting disclosed that 70 percent of the unsold tomatoes are from Tinoc. The representatives, who attended the meeting as “resource speakers” described themselves as “farmers.”
They briefed Board Member Agustin Calya-en on what went wrong in the delivery of tomatoes and other vegetables from the province to the NVAT alluding to the miscues at checkpoints in Ifugao.
Earlier, farmers recounted their difficulties of transporting vegetables at checkpoints in Ifugao such as Hungduan and Kiangan.
Nueva Vizcaya Vice Governor Jose Tomas aired suggestions to solve the problem. Tomas traces his roots to Ifugao.
At the committee meeting in Lagawe, these farmers again brought up the unbearable conditions of farmers because of the glaring blunders of checkpoint personnel. The problem stemmed from the fact that the Department of Agriculture ordered the unhampered movement of produce during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) period.
All told, the meeting evolved into prolonged monologues on petty matters of some speakers from the public sector to a few enlightening instances replete with so many questions. The only bright spot of the activity happened when Benjamin Lunag of the Provincial Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Office (PAENRO) clarified some information on the crates. PAENRO head Domingo Mariano advised farmers to insure their produce with the Philippine Crop Insurance Commission. However, Ifugao farmers were not around, but rather Nueva Vizcaya farmers heard it. Nevertheless, the meeting showed the mutual desire for good neighborliness between the two provinces.
The attendees from the government want to put up a tomato processing plant. Strangely, one of them even suggested putting it up in Nueva Vizcaya. Fortunately, Board Member Agustin Calya-en corrected him, pointing out that “the plant should be in Ifugao.” Calya-en, vice chairman of the committee, presided during the meeting in the absence of Board Member Noli Maguiwe, the committee’s chairman. Members of the committee are Board Members Clemente Bongtiwon, Perfecta Dulnuan and Joselito Guyguyon.
As they set out to have a project proposal for the tomato processing plant, proponents are reportedly planning to forward it to Agriculture Secretary William Dar.
The plant shall contribute to jobs and income generation in the province. If it pushes through, what’s wrong with that?
But that is if the tomatoes to be processed are not tainted with pesticides. For decades, Tinoc has gained the notoriety of planting tomatoes and other vegetables laced with pesticides. In fact, dumping of truckloads of pesticides-treated tomatoes at Tinoc roadsides are not isolated cases. No investigation was conducted on the alleged dumped tomatoes. Various sectors have decried the practice. Efforts to convince farmers there to shift to organic farming have yielded negative results.
Concerned Ifugao folks earlier also urged the provincial government to take stern measures on the use of pesticides, herbicides and other toxic substances as a means of safeguarding the people’s well-being.
Pesticides cause horrendous destruction of life and soil. Pesticides are considered cancer-causing agents.
Curiously, proponents of the planned tomato processing plant made no effort to even cite what products are to be processed, the plant’s cost and its probable site or location and other important operational mechanisms.
These are things not to be taken lightly by some quarters. Even as they constituted themselves as members of the so-called “technical working group” for the proposed tomato processing center as well as the other concern for “crates” of tomatoes. Thus, they are also sending another project proposal to Secretary Dar for the provision of crates. Apparently, one of them is eyeing rubberized ones. These are quite expensive, to say the least.
Giving crates for Ifugao farmers entails additional costs for the financially-embattled national government. What the committee doesn’t exactly know, however, is if the requesting parties are individual farmers or farmers organizations.
For the crates project proposal, Board Member Calya-en has set a timeline of completing it by the end of June. The committee’s next meeting is scheduled on July 1.
For the tomato processing plant project proposal, when asked by this scribe on its timeline, Calya-en said there is none for it.
All of these were justifications of how the committee on agriculture, food, fisheries and aquatic resources is important to Ifugao folks.
Board Member Maguiwe is widely recognized for his efforts to advance the cause of farmers and fisher folk in the province.
Maguiwe has been hailed a number of times for his visionary leadership. He has been lauded for his expert and steady guidance of the agriculture committee. Today, the committee is an instrument of substantial value to the national economy.
Maguiwe is credited for strengthening organic farming. He vigorously pursued the tremendous gains registered by former Board Member Samson Atluna. Atluna, author of the landmark “Organic Farming Code of Ifugao” gave compelling face and voice to organic agriculture in the province.
On the other hand, Alma Bay-ong, disclosed that Board Member Maguiwe’s assistance to farmers of Barangays Buninan, Guinihon and Mapowoy in Mayoyao. Bay-ong is a staff of the board member.
Maguiwe earlier said the move is a long-term solution to the problems faced by farmers.
The move was in line with his legislative agenda and ongoing efforts to pinpoint expected sources of strengths and weaknesses in the agriculture sector to ensure food security.
Perhaps, the most discussed pitfall of the pesticide issue is the provincial government’s failure to educate farmers on the ill-effects of its usage on vegetable farming.
The over-all poor performance of Ifugao in reducing poverty and inequality despite its rich resources for the most part caused farmers to rely on pesticides as a means of augmenting their meager earnings. The government has fared dismally to curb subsistence farming in the province.
There are some plans to help farmers relating to production, credit and marketing, but hardly any efforts to align these to poverty reduction have been made.
A state of denial by some quarters of the widespread practice of using pesticides is just as harmful to the national interest. For Ifugao’s poor economy to make a turnaround and make some fundamental changes, discussion on pesticides should become increasingly important.
First and foremost, this calls for a change of mindset among those who walk in the corridors of power.
In one sense, they should always remember that they are the representatives of the people. Thus, they should protect their welfare at all times.
The Sangguniang Panlalawigan would have been true to its representative function, especially to marginalized sectors, had it reflected on some of the underlying contradictions that still persist in the province.
Board Member Maguiwe and Mr. Atluna have worked so hard to a point of putting their political fortunes on the line all for the cause of shielding the people from the dangers of pesticides. Therefore, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan should not be sullied by the moves of some quarters.
Organic farming is considered a key driver of the economy. Today, organics have a growing market and consumers are willing to pay a premium price. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), worldwide in 2010 there were more than 23 million hectares of farm lands managed organically with food production value of around $30 billion. So it’s better to take it by heart and make a dent in the people’s lives. Such a scenario will result in a competitive business environment as it energizes farmers, traders and owners of business firms.
It is high time for Board Member Maguiwe, organic farmers and concerned folks to join forces to stop the use of pesticides and help manage sensibly existing vegetable stocks in Ifugao.
Typically, concerned residents and civil society groups testify before legislative committees on key issues affecting the people before undertaking multi-million projects. There ain’t much in this case! After all, good and sound legislation is a matter of hearing the pros and cons of an issue. It is an essential requirement that must be upheld by a legislator.** By Anthony A. Araos

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