Corn entrepreneur ex-multinational Unifrutti VP pleads for help for poorer corn farmers

October 15, 2020

A former vice president of banana-exporting multinational Unifrutti has pleaded for help for poorer corn farmers who are being “killed” by illegal smugglers and importers even as price plunged to an all-time high P9 per kilo.

   Rodolfo Pancrudo, farmer-owner of Pancrudo Farm in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon, has asked

government not to allow the killing of corn farmers. 

   This may be the ultimate plight of farmers since they do not enjoy corn support price, supposedly expected before from the National Food Administration (NFA). Nor do they have post harvest facilities by which to dry and store their corn.

   Mechanical dryers and storage facilities should enable them to hold their sale of corn and wait until prices become more profitable.

   “Traders haggle for the lowest price and tell farmers, ‘Your corn is of low quality.’ That’s why farmers are forced to sell their corn even at only P9 per kilo because they need money.  Otherwise the harvest will just go to waste since there are no post harvest facilities,”said Pancrudo.

   While he is more fortunate because he is a retiree of Unifrutti, one of the world’s largest producer-exporters of fresh produce, more farmers are poor.

   “I am just more fortunate since I am more of an entrepreneur.  I have an integrated farm. It’s a kind of sustainable farming.  But I see farmers having a very difficult life. They are in a hand-to-mouth existence,” he said.  

   Pancrudo Farm also has a piggery.  The farm uses hogs’ dung to feed a biogas facility and uses it for fertilizer. It also grows papaya as Pancrudo is a sub-contractor of also multinational Del Monte.

   “I hope other corn farmers may also become entrepreneurs.  But most of them are not learned. When I retired from my company (Unifrutti), I went into farming just to practice my being an agriculture engineer. But many farmers run to me  for these problems. I have to speak for them.”

Farmer-entrepreneur Rodolfo ‘Opong’ Pancrudo

   The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) with its president, Danilo V. Fausto, has been seeking an audience from the Department of Agriculture (DA) regarding the plight of farmers in light of the Covid 19 food crisis. PCAFI asked for least an increase in tariff  of farm commodities—mainly rice – so as to support local farmers.

   For corn, DA should at least prohibit imported corn to coincide with the harvest.

   However, PCAFI member and Philippine Maize Federation Inc. (PMFI) President Roger V. Navarro feared DA’s inaction on the plummeting corn price forebodes a collapse of the sector. Worse, DA appears to be attempting to hide the problem of farmers experiencing low corn price.

   “To my mind, this is not a good indication.  (DA’s trying to cover up the truth) tries to tell the people to keep quiet as it intentionally tries to hide the problem and the reality,” said Navarro.

   “We cannot hide the trutht that we have a problem in agriculture.  In effect DA is building a high wall.  But the crack on the wall runs down that it may suddenly collapse—shattered and badly broken.  I don’t want to see that happen.”

   PMFI has also asked government to investigate possible corn smuggling.  Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Director George Y. Culaste reportedly claimed that no permit has been issued for incoming importations of corn.

   “This leads us to assume that this coming corn is smuggled,” Navarro said.

   Expected to arrive soon are the following corn shipments: 6,000 metric tons (MT) for General Santos arrival; 20,000 MT, Cagayan de Oro; 50,000 MT, Bicol; and 30,000 MT, Iloilo.

   “We reported this to DA Secretary (William) Dar, and we are awaiting his action.  These corn shipments will strike the fatal blow to the corn farmers who painstakingly harvested a huge 3.5 million tons, wet season crop,” Navarro said.

   Pancrudo said farmers will hardly be able to make money from gross earnings of just around P30,000 per hectare. This is against production cost of P35,000 to P40,000 per hectare.

   Support for fertilizers and good seed varieties is also an important intervention Filipino farmers do not get, unlike farmers in neighboring countries as Thailand.

   “There will come a time Filipinos will no longer have (locally-produced) food.  All will be imported,” said Pancrudo. “Even a small amount of support for fertilizer will already be a (significant) help in raising yield.  But there is no such support.”

   Navarro invoked the implementation of prevailing laws that should help farmers during this Covid 19 crisis.

   These nationally sanctioned policies will not require much budget:

  .These are Republic Act (RA) 8800, the Safeguard Measures Act; RA 7607, Empowering Smallholder Farmers in their Economic Endeavors,” and RA 8435 or Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act.

   “From the recent articulation of Congressman (Rodante) Marcoleta, he was saying DA should look outside the box, away from traditional structured intervention mindset that makes agriculture development restrictive,” said Navarro.

  “There are non-funding interventions that need to be reformed or made new.  RA 7607 upholds farmers’ rights to price support especially for corn.  RA 8435 mandates banks to give loans to farmers.  The best policy is derived from good consultation.”

   The perennial problem of lack of storage and drying facilities will forever hinder farmers’ becoming more profitable – unless these are invested in.

   “We need storage to (stretch shelf life of)  surplus harvest that cannot be absorbed by the demand from industries. Without this infrastructure support, we will be the same year in and year out.”

   “DA is trying to rally farmers to increase production, but when harvest comes, DA can’t help them.”

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