As COVID-19 rips through the various sectors of  the country  adversely affecting  the economy, the Bicolano farmers still have reason to smile as the timely interventions from the Department of Agriculture are being felt even in the grassroots. 

Starting with the department’s Plant, Plant, Plant program –  DA’s centerpiece initiative to ensure food availability, accessibility and affordability amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the department also made sure that farmers are able to market their produce.

With the strong and continuous support from the Local Government Units, DA  was able to help our famers in marketing their produce. 

In the Bicol region, the Local Government Units has purchased a total of 68,372 metric tons of rice, pork and chicken meat, eggs, assorted vegetables, fresh and dried fish amounting to P245,104,021.00 as of June 5, 2020.

DA Bicol Regional Executive Director Rodel P. Tornilla confirmed that 50 provincial and municipal LGUs in Bicol heeded Secretary William Dar’s call to patronize the products of our farmers and fishers and include them as part of the relief good distributed to their constituents during the height of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) staring March 16, 2020.

“On top of distributing canned goods and processed products, we urge our LGUs to prioritize buying fresh produce from our farmers. It’s a win-win situation for both consumers and producers,” Secretary William Dar said in a facebook post.

Aside from providing a ready market for the farmers’ produce, these vegetables are nutritionally beneficial in strengthening the human immune system against the deadly COVID-19. 

For instance, in San Fernando Camarines Sur, the LGU purchased  P2,493,290 worth of agricultural produce directly from the local farmers from April to June 2020. Municipal Agriculturist Allan Salvador said that the purchased goods consisted of 1,137 bags rice; 59 heads of hogs/pork; 510 kilograms of ampalaya; 910 kilos eggplant, 284 kilos pechay;  200 kilos tomato; 60 kilos bottle gourd; 20 kilos okra; 60 kilos lettuce; 48 trays brown eggs; and 89 kilos dried fish.

Salvador said that the LGU downloaded its Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) funds to the 22 barangay councils of San Fernando. These barangay councils  directly bought the agricultural produce from the farmers and traders identified by the Municipal Agriculture Office. The purchased rice, fish and vegetables were distributed as relief assistance by the barangay councils to its 35,258  constituents as part of its efforts to combat COVID-19. In July 2020, the LGU San Fernando received additional Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) from the national government amounting to P1.8M which was used to purchase rice from the local farmers and were distributed to the constituents at 5 kilos per member of the family, excluding children 4 year old and below.

Meanwhile, in the town of Sipocot, Camarines Sur, the municipal Local Government Unit (LGU) purchased P21,718,030.00 worth of rice and eggs from private rice traders and poultry farm in the municipality through emergency procurement or public bidding. Municipal Agriculturist Franco Leonardo said that the LGU bought 9,910 bags rice and 18,822 trays of eggs which were distributed  to the 74,063 populace composed of 18,117 households in three tranches during the months of March, April and May as COVID-19 response.  “Nakakuha tayo ng mas murang bigas dahil yun lowest bidder po ang binilhan natin ng bigas at yung nasaved  na pera ay idinagdag sa pambili ng bigas ng LGU,” MA Leonardo added.

Other towns in Camarines Sur also bought agricultural goods directly from the farmers. In Pamplona, Cam. Sur, the LGU purchased 5,170 bags of rice worth P9,612,600 from Camarines Sur Multi  Purpose Cooperative and local rice farmers. In Garchitorena, Cam. Sur, 4,800 bags of rice worth P9.5 M were purchased.  In Bato,  2,000 bags of rice were purchased worth P3.6M. In Buhi, the LGU shelled out P3.2M for the purchase of rice from the local farmers which were distributed as relief goods. The Baao LGU also procured 9,540 bags of rice worth P17,348,000.00 for its constituents. In Pasacao, the LGU procured 2,971  bags  of rice worth P5,347,800.00. In San Jose, Cam. Sur the LGU purchased 3,855 bags of rice from local farmers worth P6,939,000.00. The LGU of Caramoan, Cam. Sur also procured P3.7M worth of rice from a farmer’s cooperative. In Lagonoy, Cam. Sur, 2,240 bags worth P4,144,000.00 were procured from a local comprada. In Camaligan, Cam. Sur, 2,800 bags of rice worth P5,040,000.00 were procured from local farmers. 

In Bula, Cam. Sur  the LGU procured P1,233,216.50 worth rice vegetables, rootcrops, coconut, pork, dressed chicken, salted egg, dried and smoked fish. In Pili, Cam. Sur, the LGU procured 11,236 bags of rice worth P20,472,800.00 from 27 rice farmers and a private rice mill in the municipality. In Bombon, Camarines Sur, the LGU procured 4,200 bags of rice from the local farmers amounting to P7,140,000.00. In Lupi, Cam. Sur, 3,500 bags of rice worth P6.3M were procured from local farmers. In Tinambac, Camarines Sur, the LGU directly procured over 9,000 kilos of assorted vegetables worth P2,981,205.00

Meanwhile, in the province of Camarines Norte, the LGU of Daet infused P11, 627,625.00 for the procurement of 3,100 bags rice, 300 kilos assorted vegetables and 40,000 kilos dressed chicken from local farmers under its COVID-19 efforts. Also, the LGU of San Lorenzo Ruiz spent a total of P3.8M for the procurement of  1,695 bags of rice, 2,500 kilos smoked fish, and 1,885 kilos dried fish from local farmers.

In Albay province, Legazpi City LGU procured 4,500 bags of rice worth P8,325,000.00 from a farmers’ cooperative, while the Ligao City LGU bought  2,813,250.00 worth of rice and vegetables from local farmers. 

In the province of Masbate, a total of P24,507,000.00 worth of farmers’ produce were purchased by a number of LGUs such as Aroroy, Balud, Cataingan, Placer, Milagros, Mobo and Dimasalang. The commodities purchased and distributed as part of relief assistance included rice, dried fish and assorted vegetables.

In the province of Sorsogon, P 17,960,550.00 of rice and fresh fish were purchased direct from the farmers and distributed as relief assistance  to the constituents.

The farmers were happy with this initiative as they have a ready market for their produce and they can sell them at the prevailing market price.

Letty Patricio, a farmer in Tabaco City expressed her appreciation for the LGU Tabaco and DA. She was able to sell over 2,000 kilos of  sayote and over 1,000 kilos of squash during the three times that the LGU personnel dropped by her farm to pick up her produce. “Malaki po ang advantage na direct buyer na ang pumunta sa akin para bilhin ang aking produkto dahil bukod sa wholesale na ang bilihan, hindi na ako gumastos sa pamasahe papuntang palengke kung saan ako dating nagtitinda.”

Director Tornilla hoped that more LGUs will adopt this scheme and that LGUs will continue buying farmers’ produce even after we have moved on to the “new normal.” (Lovella P. Guarin – DA RAFIS 5 / with reports from Jayson Gonzales, FOD and AMAD 5)