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The inter-agency task force on the management of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases made it clear from the start that the transport of food products from the farms to the markets should remain unimpeded and unhampered to ensure there is sufficient supply of food while the whole of Luzon is under enhanced community quarantine The primary concern of the government is to make sure that despite the implementation of the virtual lockdown in Luzon, there will be sufficient supply of food available to people in the markets.
Ironically, despite the clear marching order from no less than the inter-agency task force mandated by President Rodrigo Duterte to supervise and manage the lockdown, the implementers on the ground seem to have been confusing as there had been different interpretations on how to implement the prescribed guidelines. Complaints have reached the different media outfits on the protracted implementation of the guidelines on the unimpeded flow of food products from the farms to the markets. Some checkpoints are reported to have refused the entry of farm inputs backloaded by the farmers because these were not actual food products. Some backloaded chicken dung from the La Trinidad vegetable trading post were forced to be unloaded at another checkpoint for the same reason.
Indeed, it seems that the guidelines have not been clearly cascaded to the people on the ground as shown by these actual experience of farmers of the different interpretations of the rules by the people at the checkpoints causing more unnecessary delays in the delivery of food products from the farms to the markets.
Further, farmers returning home from the vegetable trading areas have also complained of being often caught in checkpoints and were prevented to pass through because of the curfew hours being strict implemented by local governments. Worst, some have even been forced to sleep on the road by those at the checkpoints because of they were caught up in the curfew hours. These are fail the aim of providing unimpeded the flow of food products to the markets.
In this time of crisis, the farmers are the second to the health care providers who are the most important sector in our country. Without food, we will all be more prone to contract diseases. Regardless of the weather, farmers risk their lives doing their regular chores in their farms as the growth of crops cannot be delayed. It is also worthy to emphasize that fertilizers, seeds, pest control solutions, among other materials, are essential to the production of our food. They are components of the food and value chain, thus, the transport of the same from the urban centers to the farms should also be unimpeded to ensure the sustained productionof food.
Let us try to use our common sense in making our decisions, especially when we are in the frontline services. Considering that our enemy is invisible and vicious, let us be practical in the enforcement of the prescribed guidelines because we need to deal with the situation on a case-to- case basis.
Although we often say we should use common sense when dealing with situations, sometimes those at the receiving end of orders cannot discern the intent of the order. Thus, often, clear and unambiguous instructions must be given, especially in times like this when time of the essence. While there are problems at the checkpoints on the movement of food products, citizens have demonstrated amazing sensitivity, creativity and resilience. When the Luzon enhanced community quarantine was announced, several citizen groups banded together to explore ways of bringing farmers products to consumers. The first week of the quarantine was chaotic as expected. Unclear travel arrangements for food deliveries, lack of transportationfrom farm to the market, checkpoints along the whole stretch of the route from the farm to the market, lack of storage facilities at the trading centers, among others, characterised the first two weeks of the quarantine. Social media carried images of truckloads of vegetables that were being unloaded by the roadside, of crates of vegetables being offered for free, of farmers offering free picking in their gardens, and so many other images. However, by the second week, connections were made by Baguio-Benguet citizen groups with Manila groups and some LGUs for the delivery of vegetables. Some direct buying were made by civil society groups and other entrepreneurs with farmers’ groups. The Cordillera office of the Department of Agriculture mobilized their trucks to help transport farmers produce from Benguet to Manila. Community kitchens were also set up in different parts of the city and La Trinidad using donations from farmers and other food producers. With the last week of the quarantine coming in, we hope that farmers’ woes will be mitigated and their produce become accessible to more people.
Meanwhile, these experiences in this time of the COVID-19 should inform our preparation of plans and our responses to similar crises that may arise in the future that puts our food security to a test. This crisis will show the degree of resilience of our communities and disaster management approaches must take note of the primacy of citizen participation, sans political interests, in disaster planning to evaluation. We are also shown the need to streamline farm-to-consumer linkages, including ensuring smooth transport and storage. We are also learning the importance of using indigenous responses to disaster management and appreciate the sociocultural and spiritual underpinnings that resonate with the goal of leaving no one behind. If this is the beginning of the Apocalypse, let it be said that we did not learn our lessons and mitigated the impacts.