The Department of Agriculture (DA) will study the possibility to either shorten or discontinue the prevailing 60-day price cap imposed on pork and chicken products. This comes amid calls for the government to augment local production of farm commodities instead of leaning heavily on importations to thwart long-term security challenges.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar was questioned by lawmakers during Monday’s virtual public hearing of the Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform on whether the agency has taken an initial assessment to control food prices while ensuring that there is enough supply of live products in the National Capital Region (NCR).
President Rodrigo Duterte last 1 February issued Executive Order 124 imposing a price ceiling of P270 per kilogram for pork kasim, or pigue, and no more than P300 per kilo for liempo.
Prices of these products skyrocketed due to the shortage of supply caused by the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak.
Because of this, the DA proposed importing more pork and pork products to bring down prices — a move the Chief Executive will thoroughly study, Malacañang said.
Presidential spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque said the Philippines’ pork supply is up for discussion as well as the National Economic and Development Authority’s suggestion to put the entire country under the most relaxed quarantine status next month.
Roque, however, noted the issue of tariffs on imported pork would be tackled in another meeting.
The minimum access volume (MAV) sets the quantity limit of a specific agricultural commodity that could be imported with a lower tariff.
The country’s current MAV is at 54,210 metric tons but the DA projects that the demand for pork supply would reach 1,618,355 metric tons this year. The DA is seeking to hike the MAV to 404,210 metric tons.
Dar, however, assured senators that prices of pork are starting to stabilize as the supply shortage is being augmented through the delivery of hogs from ASF-free regions such as the Visayas, Mindanao, General Santos City, and Cotabato City to NCR.
“We still have enough supply, you know, mobilize hogs from various regions in the country, so even the prices are going down and it’s working,” stated Dar.
“We are going to study the Price Act or price ceiling if we can recommend to President Duterte to have it stopped or not,” he added.
Some pork and chicken vendors temporarily closed their stalls to join the “pork holiday” which protested the price cap imposed on the said goods.
“Why did it have to reach a ‘pork holiday’ wherein vendors and producers were forced to stop selling? Is Secretary Dar contemplating a recommendation of update or removal of price ceilings on pork and chicken? Sixty days seem too long. It may cause vendors to abandon their shops instead of just resorting to pork holiday,” lamented Senator Risa Hontiveros who earlier called on the government to recall the said order after producers and retailers cried for help.
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, also appealed both to the DA and meat traders to work together “in protecting the public from widespread hunger”.
“Let us understand that many have lost their sources of income and all of them have families to feed. As a lawmaker, my appeal to the Department of Agriculture is to lay down long-term solutions towards food security,” he expressed.
“I fervently appeal to our meat traders to comply with the government’s designated price ceiling for meat products. Don’t hold a ‘holiday’ because ordinary Filipinos will be hard-pressed in coping with the rising prices of pork and chicken. Please have more patience as this problem will eventually come to pass,” he added.
Instead of leaning on importations, the Philippines should augment local production of farm commodities to cushion the blow of a food security crisis.
Advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan, an umbrella group of industry stakeholders promoting food security, on Monday said policymakers should enforce a “less import-dependent strategy” amid global market volatility to support farmers.
“The group understands that a lot of work needs to be done, and immediate response to limited supply may require importation,” the organization said.
It also suggested that lawmakers should implement investor-friendly policies to attract local and foreign investments in food production.
In the aqua-fisheries sector alone, the price of corn and soybean, the two main ingredients of feed is at an all-time high.
Data from IndexMundi, a comprehensive data portal with country-level statistics, showed that the global price of corn “almost doubled” to an average of $235 per metric ton (MT) in January 2021, from $170 a year ago.
The global price of soybean also went up to $576/MT in January, from $380/MT during the same period last year.
Meanwhile, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) also noted that the Covid-19 pandemic lifted the costs of feeding their herds.
with MARIA ROMERO
and MJ BLANCAFLOR