DA, DND open ‘Food Skyway’


AS IF to signify the importance of the fishery sector to the mandate of his agency and although it is yet to be officially amended by the Congress, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol has opted to include ‘Fisheries’ to the official name of his department making it Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

The move is also to send the message that the agency does not only cover farming but also fishing.

“I believe that the inclusion of the word "Fisheries" will signify the importance given by the administration of President Rody Duterte to the role of our fishermen in ensuring available and affordable food for the Filipinos,” the Secretary said.


Food Skyway

This developed as Pinol announced the forging of an agreement with the Department of National Defense (DND) for the latter to airlift the abundant catch of poor fishermen from the country's rich fishing grounds to the hungry markets of Cebu, Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon using the C-130 Cargo Transport Aircraft of the Philippine Air Force.

This is after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana agreed to a proposal by Piñol for the two departments to collaborate in implementing the Philippine Food Skyway – a strategy to connect the farmers and fishermen in the distant islands of the country to the big markets using the Air Force Cargo Transport Planes.

With the launching of the Philippine Food Skyway Project, the fish catch of fishermen from Samar, Surigao, Davao, Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, Tawitawi, Palawan and Mindoro could now be brought directly to the markets of Cebu, Metro Manila and Baguio City.

The program is not only expected to ensure the availability of affordable fish in the market but also to encourage fishermen to catch more as there would already be a system to bring their catch to the market.

Fish caught through dynamite fishing or other illegal methods will not be accepted in the program.

“On Monday (March 6), shortly before a Cabinet Meeting which President Rody Duterte will preside in Malacañang, Sec. Lorenzana and I will sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to officially start this unique food delivery project,” Piñol said.


Pinol’s Vision

In the proposed MOA, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries will cover the fuel and maintenance expenses for the C-130 cargo planes which will be used in the project.

The Philippine Air Force has three C-130 cargo planes, each capable of carrying about 20 tons of cargo.

“The launching of the Philippine Food Skyway, a project which I have long dreamed of and envisioned as early as when I was still Governor of North Cotabato, will be launched next week in time with the lifting of the three-month fishing ban in the Zamboanga Peninsula,” he said.

The Secretary shared that during the peak fishing season, fishermen in Zamboanga complain that they could not sell their catch, mostly composed of Tamban, which is sold for as low as P10 per kilo.

“When I was in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte last week, fishermen complained that their fish catch would just rot as they could not sell it to consumers in the big market because they lack access and they did not also have enough ice to preserve the catch,” he added.


C-130 Cargo Planes

The Philippine Food Skyway Project will also include the airlifting of fruits and other perishable commodities from the far-flung areas of the country to the big markets.

Piñol said that an Air Force C-130 cargo plane will load about 15 tons of fresh fish to be place in Styrofoam boxes in Zamboanga City and bring these to the Loakan Airport in Baguio City where it will be sold to the consumers of the Cordillera in the Farmers Trading Center in La Trinidad, Benguet.

The C-130 cargo plane which will unload the boxes of fish from Zamboanga will then be loaded with vegetables and other agricultural products from Baguio City and the Cordillera Provinces which could be delivered to Iloilo City, Cebu City, Zamboanga City and even as far as Tawi-tawi.

“The Philippine Food Skyway Project is a concept in food supply repositioning which I designed over 10 years ago because of a problem which faced North Cotabato's fruit farmers who could not sell their produce in the big markets,” he recalled.

“That was when I initiated the construction of an airport in M'lang, North Cotabato which has already been completed and which hopefully will be used in the Philippine Food Skyway Project.”

To support fishermen in the various fishing grounds of the country, Piñol said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) will continue its fiberglass fishing boats distribution program to poor fisher folks.

The DAF and the DND will also invite President Duterte to officially launch the Philippine Food Skyway Program by opening the "Fish Festival" in the DAF-owned Benguet Agri-Pinoy Trading Center (BAPTC) which is equipped with cold storage.