As we go around different Shared Service Facilities (SSF) given as grants to communities around the country, our hearts are full just knowing that the poorest of the poor do get government assistance. What we lament, though, is the fact that the procurement laws of government lack evaluation and must be reviewed soon.
First, with the rise of new technology and the rate of obsolescence being so fast, we must go back to the drawing board, so to speak.
Second, it truly is a waste of precious resources only because present day laws no longer address the need it was made for. For example, the admonition to “Buy Local” may be good for fresh food, but is it the same for modern equipment? Do we have the engineering capability and after-sales service that China or Vietnam, for example, can provide?
Vietnam and China have become coffee giants, surpassing old producers like Indonesia and even the Philippines. Yes, China produces more coffee than we do. Because of its high volume of production, Vietnam is now also already a manufacturer of coffee processing equipment which is affordable and easily imported into our country. Why do we then still attempt to manufacture such equipment locally when we can import it from Vietnam?
Vietnam is the No. 1 producer of Robusta, and No. 2 in volume next only to Brazil (still the biggest producer of coffee). It got to those positions because it has the right equipment. The Vietnamese government also focused on coffee production and gave support to farmers in Da Lat and Buon Ma Thot in 1975 after the war ended. These farmers, who were only in their 20s then, started coffee plantations and are now the proud owners of coffee companies, passing on their success to the next generation. Vietnam has drilled down the design of the processing equipment to an exact science, and we can import the equipment under the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA). Why do we still attempt to produce a handful of this equipment, without economies of scale? Could it be the Procurement Law which requires buying local? Please tell me.
Second, we have equipment that is given to communities so they can also roast their own coffee, adding value to the crop, and allowing farmers to sell their produce as roasted coffee beans. Again, the equipment is made locally — a poor imitation of the German or Turkish kind of coffee roaster. The farmers we talked to say the roaster takes two hours to process a batch using electricity, which we know is costly. So, they are better off with a wood-fired roaster that they just made in the backyard. It’s not perfect but it works for them, right now. China, however, sells roasters on Alibaba.com for cheap. You order online and it gets to your door almost in no time. Why are we manufacturing coffee roasters? And poor copies of the real deal at that, and inefficient to use.
The last 10 to 15 years have been phenomenal in the regional coffee industry because of the advent of China’s manufactured roasting equipment and Vietnam’s processing equipment. These two countries manufacture in scale and have after-sales service through the internet, with chat features and online manuals. But I dare you to go around our coffee areas and what you will see are poor imitations of imported processing equipment. Is it the mistake of the agencies giving them away, or the Procurement Law needing review? Much as we would like to buy local, we need to check with industry if cheaper, more efficient imported versions or models are now available.
Every day we find another piece of equipment going obsolete. With advances in technology, coffee is not the only industry needing review. It could be done also for other crops, like cacao, corn, and rice to name a few. I once visited a facility in the Visayas where a grinder was called “all in one.” It could mill rice, corn, coffee, and most grains. Instead of being impressed, I got worried. This is equipment that will not be used well because it is trying to be “everything to everyone.” How can cacao and coffee be processed in the same machine? But this equipment was bought and passed the procurement standards!
With all due respect to our administrators, it is high time we looked at our Procurement laws and checked the scientific and logical reasons on why instead of imported equipment we rather make a makeshift version only to comply with our antiquated bidding procedures. It is sad that our beautiful produce, like coffee, becomes bad only because of using the wrong equipment, or, due to lack of a better choice, farmers have to make do and end up with poor results.
REINVENTING THE WHEEL
I also have been exposed to an agency that does research on equipment and they showed me two “inventions”: a solar tunnel dryer and a coffee moisture meter. These did not have to be “reinvented” by a government agency. These two items, both used to make production of agricultural products better and more efficient, have already been invented and manufactured at scale by India, China, and Vietnam. Why are we reinventing it?
The solar tunnel dryer is now given to communities whether they have the minimum production required or not. So small producers and medium-scale producers get the same model. Some find it too big for their needs, others find it too small for theirs. It is not “one size fits all” but that is the model so far invented. There are other models of these solar dryers already existing if one looks online.
A coffee or grain moisture meter, now manufactured at scale by India from UK standards, is affordable for many farmers. But this agency attempted to again invent a model similar, but of course more expensive, than that from India. Why do they reinvent something already in the market?
Now, you ask me why our Agriculture is not improving? Have we looked at the whole value chain? It is not the lack of farmers. It is the big stumbling block called procurement that prevents our farmers from being more efficient and profitable. Maybe we ought to have a look at the Procurement Law and check what we need to amend.
Chit U. Juan is the co-vice-chair of the Marketing Association of the Philippines’ Environment Committee. She is president of NextGen Organization of Women Corporate Directors (NOWCD), and founder of ECHOstore Sustainable Lifestyle. She is a member of the global Slow Food community promoting good, clean, and fair food.