Jaime Jimenez, Ph.D, Deputy Executive Director for Research, Stratbase ADR Institute
In the absence or presence of man-made or natural disasters, food production is a commonsensical key process that should be protected and facilitated. In a period of lockdown due to enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to hinder the further spread of the Wuhan virus, food availability and access should also be one of the top priorities of the government.
Specifically, the chicken and swine industries that are worth P300 billion and represent a crucial component in the country’s agricultural economy face formidable challenges. Presently, the threat matrix to the chicken and swine sectors, which primarily consists of animal diseases like the Avian flu and the African Swine Fever (ASF), has been doubly compounded by the transport constrictions due to the ECQ and the existing over importation despite the sufficiency in supply. These issues directly involve the regulatory function of government.
The ECQ as a means to restrain the movement of people and the practice of social distancing to ensure the physical spacing between and among people are altogether a social safeguard to combat the spread of the Wuhan virus. Limiting the movement of people through lockdowns and the physical presence of checkpoints, however, are never intended to impede the flow of goods and the manner of distributing them.
This is understandable as chicken and pork meat are intended to be distributed to the consumers as part of the daily meal consumption of the population. For this part of the problem, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) chaired by President Duterte has been on its toes, having to resolve the emergent everyday problems regarding the continuous flow of food supply. Time and again, the IATF has explained that the transport of food and food products should not be hampered.
But of course, the bureaucratic problems or complications also lie in the hands of the local government units (LGUs). As the checkpoints are situated in the strategic areas bordering LGUs, the passage of food and food products should be a priority. It is in this aspect where the mayors and police (or soldiers) should be reminded about the protection and facilitation of food chains.
In turn, the availability of chicken and pork meat through well-defined and well-coordinated transportation and distribution would in itself serve the demand stimulus. In an island-wide lockdown, the demand for the said food products would surely dwindle. However, if the people see that chicken and pork meat are widely available and accessible, their demand would be encouraged.
Another regulatory challenge that the chicken and pork industries confront pertains to over-importation. This happened in 2018 when Philippine pork and chicken imports far exceeded the country’s commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO) by millions of kilos. These are regulatory lapses that directly endanger not only the livelihoods of growers, feeders, dealers, workers, and businesses but the resilience of our agricultural economy as well. As such, a sensible course of action would be to halt the issuance of importation permits and let the local supply be consumed by the population during and after the ECQ.
Lastly, it is also within the purview of regulation to allow or grant reprieves to both the chicken and pork businesses in terms of local business taxes and sanitation permits in this time of crisis. This is an alleviative resolution; with a colatilla that such business will not lay off workers during the ECQ period and that savings from taxes would instead be given to workers in the form of assistance.
Developing the country’s food production capacity is critical to national security. There needs to be systematic monitoring and an updated database so that the government can avoid over-importation of meat products. The situation poses very harmful repercussions to our local producers and jeopardizes the jobs of millions of families. It is a national security problem that can spark public unrest.
And while government has its hands full in simultaneously addressing ECQ concerns and effecting a national plan for economic recovery, it should not lose sight of the critical task to ensure the existence of an enabling regulatory environment that facilitates food supply and distribution. Any disruptions at this time will feed the already anxious atmosphere of the ongoing Crisis.
This article was originally published in BusinessWorld. Image Source: Philippine Star/Michael Varcas.