‘MinDA Fish Festival’ in Manila’ set for Mindanao’s fish like Basilan’s

COTABATO CITY: After the great success of its trade fair called “MinDA Tienda” in Manila last year, the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) plans to stage this month a similar event in the metropolitan city to promote this time fish supplies from Basilan and other fishing areas in the south locally priced at as low as P30 per kilo but sold in big cities at no less than P250 a kilo.

In his statement datelined in Isabela City, Basilan on March 8, MinDA Chairman Manny Piñol said his agency will partner again with the Manila City government to “stage before end of March” a Fish Festival help fishermen from Basilan and elsewhere in Mindanao “get a better price for their catch.”

A week after Mindanao authorities declared an “open fishing season on March 1, Sec. Piñol said he and his team traveled by land and boat to Basilan on March 8, and were amazed to discover how fishermen catch an average of three tons of galunggong daily and sell them at as low as 30 to 40 pesos a kilo to buyers in just one of two major fish ports. The two major fish ports are located in Maluso town in Basilan and at Barangay Tabuk in Isabela City.

Galunggong (scientific name: Decapterus macarellus) became a popular byword used by then filibustering Corazon Aquino in criticizing the Marcos government for spiraling price of the fish species deemed then as “poor man’s” type.

When Aquino became President, she vowed to peg the price at P20 per kilo. Before her term ended, Galunggong was sold at over P100 a kilo in Manila. Nowadays, the same fish is priced at as high as P280 per kilo, it was learned.

While amazed of the magnitude and cheap price of Galunggong and other pelagic fish species, Piñol was touched by the revelation of port-based traders in Basilan that ice supplies for sustaining freshness in voluminous fish catch have to be shipped from Zamboanga City but still insufficient, according to his teams members.

“MinDA will assist Mindanao fishermen establish links with Metro Manila buyers to get a better price for their catch,” Sec. Piñol said.

He recalled that in October last year, his agency also partnered with the Manila City Government in the successful conduct of the “MinDA Tienda in Manila,” during which Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Damagoso declared his city “open to all Mindanao products.”  Voluminous goods like fruits, processed foods and cottage industry products were sold to thousands of Manileños that swarmed the five-day fair, it was learned.

In a separate statement, Sec. Piñol pointed out the great potentials of helping fishing people in Basilan and island areas across Sulu archipelago reach bigger markets in the country like those of Manila, where resident will at the same time have access to cheap fish supplies.

For such purpose, he said, the “MinDA Fish Festival” will be held within this month in Manila, with a hope not only to create links between Mindanao fishermen and markets but also to drum beat the need for government support to the fisheries industry.

Pinol described as government’s “practical interventions” the provision of cold storage and reefer boats for transport of fresh fish supplies from Mindanao to urban centers in Visayas and Luzon regions.

Amid prevailing galunggong price of as high as P280 in common markets, the MinDA said: “When I was in Maluso, Basilan last Tuesday, I asked the fish port personnel how much do fishermen sell their catch and I was shocked to learn that they would get as low as P30 to P40 per kilo.”

At Maluso fish port, he said, Fresh Galunggong, Carballas and other pelagic species are sold for only P70 per kilo to “traders who bring these to Cebu and Cagayan where after two to three days of travel, these would be sold at over P280 per kilo in the wet market.”

“That is a difference of about P240 when the fish moves from the fisherman’s net to the consumers’ basket and the reason is the huge logistical cost and the number of hands through which the commodity passes through,” he said, hinting at the need for government appropriate support to narrow down the gap.

“I saw this problem early on in my three-year stint as Secretary of Agriculture when I moved around the country in a journey called ‘Biyaheng Bukid.’ In fact, a little over a year as DA Secretary, I proposed that local shipbuilders should build refrigerated vessels to be called ‘Food Boats’ which would ferry highly perishable commodities from the remote production areas of the country to the markets in the urban centers,” Piñol added.

He said his suggested boats could travel to the islands where fish is abundant equipped with refrigerated containers or dock at ports near areas where regional food centers would be established to bring fresh vegetables to the market.

During his watch at the DA, he recalled, the Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC) opened a program called Agri-Fisheries Machinery and Equipment Loaning Program which offered loans at 2% interest to farmers and fishermen’s groups needing equipment like tractors and ice-makers.

“Sadly, the (concepts on) Food Boat and Regional Food Centers never sailed through the government budgeting body of called Development Budget Coordinating Council (DBCC) which determines project priority funding,” he said.

“Today, the failure to look at the importance of the very practical proposals to bring food from the production areas to the dining table of consumers at the least cost is biting us,” Pinol added.

In his transfer to the MinDA, he said, he pursues “the same advocacy… by proposing the Mindanao Fisheries and Aqua Development Program to be included in the European Union Funded MINPAD RISE program.”

MinFAD proposes the establishment of port harvest facilities like ice-making equipment, blast freezers, cold storage, processing plants and transport facilities to encourage farmers and fishermen to produce more, he said.

Piñol cited the revelation of Basilan fishermen that if only they have ice-making facilities, fish could cost less because ice, which comes from as far as Zamboanga City, is expensive.

An ice plant has been established by the Provincial Government of Basilan, under Gov. Jim Hataman-Saliman, but its operation is hampered by the unreliable power supply which comes from power barges, he said.

“Sorry na lang if some people perceive me as being ‘makulit’ and the President, Rody Duterte, jokingly describing me as ‘talkative’ but I have to repeat this and talk about this again and again because some people just could not see the point I am trying to raise,” the MinDA pointed out.

(Ali G. Macabalang/PMT/SRNY/RSP)

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