MELANDREW T. VELASCO: SMC initiatives to fuel agricultural growth

As a country that is basically agricultural, I am troubled by reports of continued imports of agricultural products—crops, poultry and meat included. How I wish by this time we have addressed the problems confronting the agricultural sector embedded for generations. How I wish we are now a self-reliant and self-sufficiency country in terms of food at par or even better than our neighbors in the region. I had the great privilege of serving as communications and media consultant at DA during the stints of then Secretary Leonardo Montemayor and former Secretary Arthur Yap with the late Undersecretary Jesus Emmanuel Paras. 

I remain optimistic though that we will get there with the right government policies under the leadership of PBBM who has taken on the role of Secretary at the Department of Agriculture, and with the help of the private sector. While this is noble, I believe it’s about time President Marcos Jr. must now appoint a permanent DA Secretary.

Over the past week, three reports caught my attention. The Philippine Statistics Authority reported that the value of production in agriculture and fisheries at constant 2018 prices in the first quarter of 2023 registered P428.69 billion which indicates an annual growth of 2.1 percent. Another report, this time on employment rate in March 2023, revealed that it was higher at 95.3 percent than last year’s 94.2 percent for the same month.  According to the report, by broad industry group, the agriculture sector accounted for 23.5 percent of total employed persons. Sadly, agriculture and forestry was among the five sub-sectors with the largest drop in the number of employed persons from March 2022 to March 2023.

The third news I found very inspiring was about San Miguel Corporation’s direct corn buying program that provides farmers with a ready market for their corn produce at fair prices. The program was launched in 2020 and to date, SMC has purchased P23.9-billion worth of corn. This translates to over 1.3 million metric tons of local corn.

Farmers from 13 provinces are the beneficiaries of this program. These provinces are Batangas, Bicol, Bukidnon, Bulacan, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu Davao, Iloilo, Isabela, Ormoc, Pangasinan, Tarlac and Zamboanga. Plans are afoot to expand the number of provinces to be included in the corn buying program this year.  Through this program, farmers earn more as middlemen are eliminated.

SMC President and CEO Ramon S. Ang envisions the program as a means to support local farmers and increase economic activity.

“Supporting local farmers provides our country multiple benefits—from creating jobs and improving livelihood in the provinces to stimulating local economies and reducing our dependence on imports,” he said.

Likewise, the program will help preserve farmlands. “These can be sustained for food production and remain viable resources for generations to come,” he added.

SMC’s direct corn buying program could be a template for other local food manufacturers who are dependent on imported raw materials for their products. A program like this ensures a steady supply of raw materials. It could also entice more Filipinos to engage in farming knowing that there is a ready market for their produce.

It will be recalled that during the COVID-19 pandemic, SMC established the Better World Diliman to provide consumers with fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices. SMC collaborated with Rural Rising Ph to rescue over 1.7 million kilograms of fruits and vegetables from farmers who had difficulty finding market for their agricultural harvests. This collaboration boosted incomes of about 4,500 farmers from Luzon, prevented crop spoilage and wastage, and ensured the availability of food despite the pandemic.

During the pandemic, SMC subsidiary San Miguel Foods, Inc. purchased 5000,000 metric tons of corn from farmers nationwide who were affected by quarantine protocols and supply chain difficulties.

‘We are happy to help bridge the gap between farmers and end-consumers by ensuring farmers get better-than-farmgate prices for their agricultural produce to earn higher incomes while offering these directly to consumers, including our employees,” RSA had said.

The SMC top executive believes food security is a pressing issue. That is why SMC is committed to support the agricultural development of the country. And this commitment goes beyond purchasing excess produce but also providing marketing facilities and supporting community-based agriculture initiatives.

Other SMC initiatives to help the agriculture sector include sourcing cassava, an important raw material for its business through the cassava assembler’s program. It also has contract growers for its poultry requirements.

Rent-free spaces for farmers are provided by SMC at the Circolo Market in partnership with the Cabuyao Agriculture Office in Laguna. Farmer and fisherfolk relocatees at the San Miguel Christian Gayeta Homes in Quezon province also benefit from rent-free spaces at the San Miguel Market in Sariaya town.

SMC and the Department of Agriculture in 2020 expanded Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita rolling stores located at Petron stations to help farmers sell their produce.

The conglomerate also supports RSA Farmers Association members in their rabbitry and hog-raising livelihood projects.

Let us help ensure the growth of our agricultural sector, not only to feed Filipinos but to make it a strong driver of economic development. 

Let us work to guarantee agricultural productivity and profitability. Let us be inspired by the example set by SMC and its top honcho Don Ramon S. Ang.