A PARTY-LIST congressman on Friday warned that coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic could kill the vegetable farming industry in the poor agricultural communities in the Cordillera region.
Ang Probinsyano party-list Rep. Ronnie Ong said the only way to save the farmers is to ensure the uninterrupted trading of vegetables despite the ongoing Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon.
Ong said vegetable farmers from Cordilleras are practically throwing away their produce because nobody has been buying their produce.
Meanwhile in Metro Manila, Ong said a lot of families are complaining of starvation because they don't have any food to eat.
“The irony is, while people from the Cordillera region are basically wasting a lot of nutritious food resource because no one is buying them even for a song, people in Metro Manila are getting hungry because there's no food on the table. Why not buy vegetables from our Cordillera farmers and use them to feed the hungry people in Metro Manila?" Ong asked.
This situation prompted Ong to launch the #LibrengGulay initiative where he donated truckloads of vegetables purchased directly from vegetable farms in Benguet to the local governments of Pasig City and Valenzuela.
The vegetables will be used for the hot meals that are being distributed to the frontliners in these two Metro Manila cities.
“Vegetables are a high source of nutrition and immune support na kailangan ng mga katawan natin in fighting COVID19 at iba pang sakit. Mas mura pa ang mga ito rin kaysa puro de-lata ang ipamigay o ipakain sa mga healthworkers, frontliners at residents," said Ong.
Ong said that because of the ECQ, many farmers in the Cordilleras are barely making enough money for their day-to-day needs.
Although President Duterte has assured that the flow of vegetable and other food products from the farms to the cities would not be impeded, Ong said business remains very slow because of the fewer number of people who go to the market to buy vegetables.
“People now prefer canned goods and other products with preservatives over perishable food products. This is killing the vegetable farming industry in the Cordillera region. Ibinabaon na lang nila sa lupa mga naha-harvest nilang mga gulay kasi nabubulok na," said Ong.
Ong said that the national government can help the vegetable farmers by buying vegetables directly from farms and process them into ready-to-eat meals that can be distributed to various government hospitals, particularly those that are now being used as isolation and treatment facilities for COVID-19 patients.
He said that there are thousands of medical frontliners who need to boost their immune system by eating nutritious vegetables and even those who are confined in these hospitals would certainly need vegetables in their diet.
“The Department of Health can make arrangements with the Department of Agriculture so that they can bulk-buy from the Cordillera and supply the vegetables to our hospitals," Ong said as he thanked Assistant Secretary Kristine Evangelista of the DA for her support and for providing food pass that allowed his staff to transport the vegetables to Metro Manila from Benguet despite the lockdown.
This can also be adopted by other local government units so that they can provide fresh but nutritious and cheap food assistance to their constituents as they heed the government's call for them to stay at home to help defeat the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 virus.