First 100 days and rising food prices – The Manila Times

THE first 100 days of the current administration has been marked by rising food prices. The latest inflation figure shows that inflation rose from 6.3 percent in August to 6.9 percent in September of this year.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) noted that it is the highest since October 2018, or four years ago. If this trend continues for the next three months, which is most likely because demand peaks during the Christmas holidays, PSA predicts that our annual inflation rate will surpass the target range of 2 to 4 percent this year.
The main drivers of higher inflation are food and non-alcoholic beverages (7.4 percent); alcoholic beverages and tobacco (9.8 percent); and housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels (7.3 percent). Focusing on food inflation, it was reported that the national average rose from 6.5 percent in August to 7.7 percent in September. Of the food items, the foremost drivers of higher food inflation are sugar, confectionery and desserts (30.2 percent); corn (26.2 percent); and oils and fats (20.1 percent).
What about meat and fish products which previously contributed the highest percentage points to our overall food inflation? This time, they have not registered higher price increases because they are already exorbitantly priced and hence, any increase will be minimal but that does not necessarily make them affordable to the ordinary consumers.
Bad omen
With no less than President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. heading the Department of Agriculture (DA), the rising prices of food commodities reflect badly on his leadership. I am afraid that this will contribute to the undermining of the President's credibility and eventually his popularity if not arrested.
Although the administration overall remains popular, the results of the latest Pulse Asia survey showed that about two-thirds (66 percent) of the respondents expressed serious concern on the soaring prices of basic commodities. It also revealed that 42 percent of the respondents disapprove of how the national government is controlling inflation.
The concern among the respondents on the high inflation rate and the strong sentiment on the need to better manage inflation is expected because inflation hurts the poor most, though everyone is adversely affected by it. Given their limited income source, further reduction in the purchasing power of the poor consumers will indeed be painful as the same amount of money they earn can only now procure 90, 80 or lower percent, depending on the rate of inflation, on what they used to get and enjoy. For the middle class who borrowed money from the banks, this means paying higher interest rates on their mortgages or loans
What is the plan?
Given the food inflation challenge, one wonders what the plan of DA now and its highly experienced leadership to address this concern. With the looming food crisis on the horizon, how does the DA leadership intend to respond to this food security problem?
In fairness, the concept note on Masagana 150 and 200, aiming to raise palay (unmilled rice) production to 150 and 200 bags per hectare, was unveiled early in the days of the administration. But it has to be noted that the concept note was an initiative of former Agriculture secretary William Dar and was submitted as part of his transition report to the incoming administration. However, until now, there is still no programmatic and detailed plan on how to implement Masagana 150 and 200. And we are just talking here of the palay and rice subsector.
What about corn, hogs and poultry, commodities which are inextricably linked through the value chain (i.e., yellow corn is a major feed ingredient for hogs and poultry)? What is the plan to dramatically raise corn productivity to be able to bring down its retail prices that have doubled and tame corn inflation (second contributor to food inflation)? What is the plan to promote the recovery of the hog industry hit hard by the African swine fever (ASF) and the poultry sector hounded by the bird flu virus?
How will DA manage the soaring prices of sugar that has led to the temporary closures of a number of bottling companies resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs in this industry? How will DA make sugar available and affordable to the small-time vendors of turon, banana and camote cues, puto, sapin-sapin, kutsinta, suman, kalamay, biko, among others, so that poor consumers will continue patronizing their products?
How will cheaper pork and poultry products be made available to the vast majority of Filipino consumers who are long suffering from high and widespread malnutrition due to serious protein deficiency? How can consumers enjoy low-priced fish products given that the declining fish catch in the open sea has resulted in the skyrocketing prices of capture fish? Even galunggong, reputed to be the poor man's fish, is now beyond the reach of the poor consumers as it is more expensive than chicken. As a result, sardines have replaced galunggong in the poor man's diet.
And how can we transform the Philippines as an “agricultural hub” in this region as envisioned and promised by the President? I still need to see a detailed plan to achieve this vision.
Importance of a plan
A plan is indispensable in clearly identifying what the problems are, the direction that one must take to address these problems, what activities should be implemented to solve the problems, how much will the implementation of the solutions cost the country and to determine whether real progress has been made. A number of highly experienced and technical people sometimes downplay the need to formulate a good plan because they would rather immediately immerse themselves in the implementation task. But this kind of approach is akin to “a blind leading a blind person” because of the lack of clarity on the problems being addressed, and the appropriate responses to be taken.
Note that if a good plan cannot be formulated in the remaining months of this year to address the challenges confronting the agricultural sector, expect a ratcheting up of press releases to paint a more acceptable picture of the real situation. In addition, expect that such releases will contain motherhood statements like increasing farm productivity, improving the income and welfare of the farmers and fishers, that we have ample supply of the commodities despite their rising prices, and recovery will soon be at hand.
But if ask how productivity will be raised, how farmers' income and welfare will be improved, why prices of food commodities are rising in the face of allegedly sufficient supply and when will the promised recovery happen, expect that the next response will be, “The government is doing its best to alleviate the situation and is, in fact, offering an array of assistance to our farmers and fishers!”
Unfortunately, engaging in retort-manship does not solve our problems neither does it clarify the issues that we need to badly address. Inevitably, the end result will be continuing food price increases, higher inflation figure and the protracted suffering of our people, particularly the poor.
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