There was a story of a schoolgirl whose every school day was a cup of rice drizzled with patis or fish sauce. It was the only thing his parents could afford, according to a report on social media.
The staple diet of Filipinos is rice and fish. For more than half of all Filipinos, fish and fish products provide the bulk of protein at meals.
Galunggong or scad was a poor man’s fish when I was growing up. But today the poor cannot afford to buy galunggong. Now importing.
Today, the most profitable fish are bangus and tilapia, because they are aquaculture products. Bangus and tilapia can be bought for P170 and P120 per kilo respectively. This is lower than local and imported galunggong, which ranges between P200 and P320 per kilo. Lazada lists it at P299.
“Filipinos consume about 60 kilos of meat protein per person per year. Of that, 60 percent, or about 36 kilos, comes from fish, according to the government. Thus, fish like bangus and tilapia can be a real ‘saviour’, especially for low-income families,” said advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan.
But like almost everything else, we eat rice, corn, onions, garlic, etc. we hunted bangus as well as we swallowed. We used to be the market leader in bangus, neighboring countries looked to us for technology assistance. Not anymore.
Now we import our bangus fry from Indonesia and Taiwan. This is because we have not continued to invest in our breeding farms. The sabalo from Taiwan came from Palawan. They learned breeding habits to raise fry.
Tilapia now saves the day for many families. About 12 percent of their animal protein consumption comes from farmed tilapia.
We had a lot of say in fishing. In late 2018, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that the Philippines was the world’s 11th largest aquaculture producer, accounting for 1.01 percent of total world production. The country is also the fourth largest producer of aquatic plants (including seaweed), accounting for 1.48 million tonnes or 4.56 percent of world production.
The policy brief, written by a team led by economist Dr. Carlo Adriano, states that the country’s aquaculture has strong potential to expand and develop due to its vast resources (338,393 hectares of wetlands, 14,531 hectares of freshwater fish ponds, 239,323 hectares). saltwater fish ponds, 200,000 hectares of lakes, 31,000 hectares of rivers and 19,000 hectares of reservoirs).
“Proper management and utilization of these existing production areas will easily increase aquaculture production by more than 100 percent,” Adriano said in the policy document.
But we have squandered great potential in aquaculture, as in everything else the Department of Agriculture is responsible for. Local production of the sector has been showing stagnation since 2017. From 2017 to 2021, the average annual growth rate of aquaculture is only 0.1 percent.
“According to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), aquaculture production recorded a -3.3 percent year-on-year decline at constant 2018 prices, from 2,323,000 MT in 2020 to 2,246,000 MT in 2021. The share of fisheries in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is minimal with an average contribution of only 1.5 percent from 2010 to 2020 at constant 2018 prices. Despite the minimal contribution to GDP.”
While global fisheries and aquaculture production are growing rapidly, our aquaculture production is even declining.
According to the Center for Food and Fertilizer Technology (2008), Philippine aquaculture faces the following challenges: (1) lack of high-quality fry/fingerlings, (2) high input costs, (3) lack of post-harvest facilities, (4) both local and also limited access to the international market, (5) Food safety and quality restrictions and others.
According to the policy paper, “the underdevelopment of the fisheries sector can be largely attributed to the lack of a value chain approach (upstream, production, midstream and downstream).
“For example, a major constraint upstream is the limited supply of fry or fingerlings and the high cost of inputs such as feed and fertilizer.”
Studies have shown that the main constraints to milkfish production in the country are high prices of commercial formulated feeds and insufficient supply of local fry and/or fingerlings. On average, feed accounts for about 60 percent of the total operating costs of a typical pen or cage culture system.
“On the other hand, the country is heavily dependent on fried fish imports to supplement the domestic milkfish industry’s fry demand…based on the country’s milkfish production, about 1.65 billion milkfish fry are required annually. In general, this can be attributed to insufficient investment in the development of incubation and nursery farms.
Aquaculture fishers also face limited access to credit and financial assistance. How can they invest in new technology and modern facilities without obtaining credit?
The Philippines also lags behind other countries in terms of marketing and post-harvest practices for fishery products…According to the ADB, the number of HACCP-certified aquaculture processing facilities was still very limited…then with limited cold chain infrastructure. …
Oh well… What else is new? We know what our problems are, our experts have good recommendations, but the application of DA and BFAR flub. Just as we have good experts in rice, we also have good experts in aquaculture. If only the decision makers would listen to them.
I visited the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center, Department of Aquaculture (SEAFDEC/AQD) in Iloilo a few years ago with Senator Serge Osmena III. They are doing great things recently including farming galunggong.
“Our breeders have been spawning non-stop from December last year to this February and we now have thousands of galunggongs in various larval and early adult stages in our hatchery, which we hope to reach market sizes to prove we can grow galunggongs for further growth. ” SEAFDEC/AQD chief Dan Baliao disclosed in an interview last February 28 and published on aquaasiapac.com.
We have everything we need to feed ourselves. We have experts and natural resources. But our politicians do not pay attention to the national interest. If only we could elect better leaders… Oh, we can dream.
Here is Boo Chanco’s email address [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco