By Apolinario Villalobos


First of all, it is a fact that the Philippines is lagging behind the neighboring Southeast Asian countries, especially, Thailand on the areas that cover exportation of dried products and fruit juices that can be processed into vinegar or “cider”. It is funny to note that it seems the government has no definite direction as regards the surplus bananas, mangoes, avocados, yams, sweet potato, leafy vegetables and medicinal herbs. It is funnier to note that when available locally, the processed products tend to carry tags with prohibitive prices due to their EXPENSIVE PACKAGING!…and worst, the country is way behind other southeast Asian nations as regards rice production!


In banana growing provinces of Mindanao, “reject” bananas due to their “over” and “under”  sizes are heaped in roadsides to be fed to hogs. What Filipinos know about the banana is to eat it as an after meal repast, fry into fritters or mix it with flour to be baked into cake. Many home-based entrepreneurs come up with “banana crackling” but a small pack that can’t even fill a small cup is priced sky-high. If ever banana products come out in the market, their prices become “unfit” for Filipinos. I was lucky to have found banana vinegar one day in a grocery inside a mall, but stylishly tagged as “cider” to justify the expensive price due to the “foreign sounding” brand. My elation was immediately transformed into frustration so I did not buy a single bottle of “cider”.


On the other hand, westerners love to eat dried mango that come in chips or strips, but small entrepreneurs cannot cope up with the demand because of outdated processing that they use. If they want a high-tech equipment, they are supposed to browse the internet for them. What is commendable is the resourcefulness of private individuals and groups in promoting this tropical fruit such as holding a mango festival just like what Guimaras is doing. The province is famous for its “sweetest” variety of mango. In Mindanao, many towns produce mangoes but most dried products, ironically, comes from Cebu. The mango juice that is packed in Davao is not promoted well.


The Philippines is a tropical country and as a popular adage goes, “one may throw the seed of any fruit anywhere and not long afterwards, a fragile teeny-weeny leaf will peek to great the sun!”. The same goes with the vegetables with stalks that can just be left in a corner of the yard and roots will sprout. DESPITE THIS, THERE IS NO TANGIBLE SUPPORT FROM THE GOVERNMENT AS REGARDS THEIR FULL UTILIZATION AS EXPORTABLE PRODUCTS IN DRIED OR JUICE. Assistance always comes from the LGUs despite their limited resources and a manifestation of this effort is the mango festival of Guimaras. As can be noticed, the assistance is limited to information dissemination and promotion.


This is the sad situation in the Philippines….national agencies that are supposed to be concerned with matters regarding agricultural products have no tangible output on the aspect of technological assistance. Accordingly, a certain bill on this issue is still pending in Congress for several years now.


Here is a classic ironic situation. Foreign rice specialists come to the Philippines to learn everything possible at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Laguna. After accomplishing their “mission”, they go back to their countries…put what they learned into practice with the help of course of their respective government…AND, SELL RICE TO THE PHILIPPINES!…BECAUSE THE PHILIPPIN E’S BELOVED NATIONAL FOOD AUTHORITY (NFA) SAYS, THE FILIPINOS WILL DIE OF HUNGER IF THE COUNTRY WILL NOT IMPORT RICE BECAUSE THE LOCAL PRODUCE IS NOT ENOUGH!


Concerned government agencies always mention the lack of budget when it comes to the need for their assistance on certain relevant projects, BUT THERE IS ALWAYS A BIG BUDGET WHEN IT COMES TO PURCHASES!…AND RICE IMPORTATION IS AMONG THEM!


There is not even a very EFFECTIVE effort  to CONTROL the conversion of rice fields into subdivisions…despite the fact that even before the creation of the Rice and Corn Administration (RCA) that metamorphosed into National Grains Authority (NGA), and today, has become the National Food Authority (NFA), rice has been identified as the most crucial need of the country. Today, the NFA is unfortunately viewed as a corruption-riddled agency.


Lately, resourceful farmers whose fruit orchards started as a hobby are into exportation of their products…still the government has not given them the much needed technological assistance, as shown by the pending bill that should have benefited them years ago, yet. If approved and becomes a law, my apprehension is that the implementation will again be hampered by the LACK OF BUDGET as what happened to the rest…so, as expected, there will be finger-pointing as to who’s to blame again!


My big question is…are the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) and the National Food Authority (NFA) still RELEVANT today? It seems that the BPI is only good for “information dissemination” or giving out of brochures during agri-trade fairs, as well as, seeds/seedling dispersal….things that can be done by LGUs that are already with nurseries of their own.  And, worse, the NFA is only good for rice importation as it cannot even do anything about the obvious rice cartel in the country.