Salt to the agri wound

First, it was onions at almost P700 per kilo.

Following the shock of these “golden” bulbs, eggs became quite precious at P215 per tray.

Now it’s salt — and lawmakers are rubbing it in a wound that seems to have afflicted our agriculture sector for a long time now.

In a Senate hearing on the salt industry this week, Senator Cynthia Villar raised the fact that salt production in the Philippines had “dropped to about 40,000 metric tons from 240,000 metric tons recorded in the 1960s and 1970s,” as reports showed.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food chair questioned the “deterioration” of salt production in the country, leading to the heavy importation of white crystals to meet local demand. Latest figures reveal that the Philippines produced only “7 percent of our salt requirements and imported 93 percent or 550,000 tons.”

Salt is mainly produced in two provinces: Pangasinan, which is called the “land of salt,” and Occidental Mindoro. Pangasinan, which derived its name from its main product, asin (salt), has several salt-making farms around the Maasin River. The solar evaporation method is still the most common method of salt production used in the country.

Villar thinks the Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide or ASIN law is the culprit in the industry’s low production.

Republic Act 8172 or the ASIN law passed in 1995 made it mandatory for salt-makers to iodize the salt that they “produce, manufacture, import or distribute for human and animal consumption” to address micronutrient malnutrition. In other words, as Senator Villar summed it up, “It made all the salt food grade.”

Most of the imported salt, apparently, is non-iodized, leading the senator to exclaim: “What insanity is this?”

Apart from the ASIN law, which solons now want to amend, urbanization was also blamed for the weakened salt industry. Salt beds, reports say, radically decreased to give way to the development of residential spaces.

Changes in the world have certainly affected food production and supply here and around the globe.

Studies point to “conflict, climate change, and Covid-19” as the culprits for many of our challenges today.

Independent development and humanitarian organization Plan International, in a recent report, zeroed in on the disturbing spike in hunger rates in many countries these past years.

On top of the three main problems affecting food supply, it said, “soaring food prices” have made it almost impossible for the poorest of the poor to get proper sustenance in a day.

“Forty-five million people are close to starvation right now — facing famine or famine-like conditions — with children and women hit the hardest. Twenty-six million children under five are suffering from wasting, which is the most visible and life-threatening form of malnutrition,” the organization said.

In the Philippines, a survey released in the third quarter of 2022 showed that 11.3 percent of Filipino families (or about 2.9 million) experienced “involuntary hunger.”

While our lawmakers are figuring out ways to modernize the agriculture sector and review or amend laws that make no sense, perhaps an overlooked solution is to educate more Filipinos on the other side of “planting kamote” — that derogatory Filipino term for those who are deemed a failure in their studies.

It’s time to change our minds about the value of farming, now that food could stay scarce for a long time to come.

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