P100-M AID FUND FOR SALT PRODUCERS MISSING? GOV’T ACTS; DA exec, groups bewail ‘negligence’

MOUNTAIN OF SALT in Pangasinan with photographer Willie Lomibao

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA – Shortage of salt has surfaced in the country after the alleged shortages of sugar, white onions and other agricultural products and surprised many that the country, once one of the world’s top producers of salt, now produces only 10 percent of the 600,000 metric tons salt needs for cooking and other needs.

This prompted President Ferdinand  Marcos Jr., who is also the Agriculture Secretary, to order an investigation and directed Department of Agriculture officials to come up with a plan to revive the fledging salt industry.

Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban disclosed that there may have been some negligence on the part of past officials to support the salt industry following the discovery that the DA, through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), has an allocation last year of P100 million for assistance to salt makers in Pangasinan, Central Luzon, Mindoro and other provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao.

Apparently, the budget has not been released, unused and maybe “missing” prompting Panganiban to order DA-BFAR to locate the funds and appropriate it to support the country’s salt maker.

During a televised  “Laging Handa” briefing, Panganiban said BFAR failed to utilize the P100 million budget to help the dying salt industry.

“For the last two or three years, I did not see any activity being done by BFAR. It has the money but still neglected the salt production. The bureau has at least P100 million in 2021 but has yet to [tap it]. I already tasked BFAR to follow up the P100 million so that it can be used to increase the salt production,” Panganiban said during the briefing.

Panganiban, who had served as agriculture secretary before, however, immediately  cleared BFAR officials of any liability for their failure to develop the country’s local salt production.

“This is not negligence, but rather officials overlooked the program for the salt industry due to the bigger projects of the agency,” he said.
But Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food President Danilo Fausto said BFAR failed to utilize the P100 million funding because of the incompetence of the officials and corruption at the agency.

At least 93 percent of the salt supply in the country is being outsourced as only 7 percent of the commodity is locally produced, it was reported.

“If our area of local salt production increases, the importation will definitely decrease,” he added.

Panganiban said that the funding can be used to provide financial assistance to small fisherfolk to return to salt production, but admitted it will take at least two to three years to revitalize the salt industry.

“We need to provide assistance to our fisherfolk involved in the salt production, particularly in Occidental Mindoro, here in Central Luzon, in Pangasinan, and even in the Visayas and Mindanao,” he added.

This as several salt brands increased prices in January and May based on Department of Trade and  Industry’s suggested retail price. The agency said manufacturers last increased prices half a decade ago, DTI Undersecretary Ruth Castelo said

Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. president Danilo Fausto earlier urged lawmakers to amend Republic Act 8172 or An Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide to reinvigorate the country’s salt production industry.

The Marcos administration immediately set in motion its plan to enhance the salt production in the country.

In a statement, the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS) said the Department of Agriculture, which is headed by President Marcos Jr., will lead the efforts together with other government agencies.

The plan includes the following:

  • DA to implement programs and initiatives for boosting salt production and supply;
  • Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to lead various research and development initiatives on salt production and assist marginal and artisanal salt makers;
  • Realization of the Development of the Salt Industry Project (DSIP) for salt makers in Regions 1, 6 and 9;
  • DA to expand salt production areas and push for the development of technologies to accelerate salt production; and
  • DA to work with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to fully develop the local salt industry under Republic Act 8172, or the Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide (ASIN)
DA officials said among the programs of the BFAR to enhance the salt industry is the distribution of modern equipment, as well as knowledge-enhancing programs to ensure food safety among salt makers.

The Department of Trade and Industry, meanwhile,m increased the price of salt after years of it remaining unchanged. It approved an increase in prices of iodized rock salt to P21.75 for 500 grams and P23.00 for one kilogram.

The suggested retail price for a 100-gram pack of iodized salt is set at P4.50. The price for a 250-gram pack ranges from P9.00 to P11.75. It is P16.00 to P21.25 for a 500-gram pack. One kilogram of salt is priced at P29.00.

Earlier, the DA officials said that the country has been importing 93% of its salt supply, “an unfortunate circumstance to a country with 36,000 kilometers of shoreline.”

The DA said that  the BFAR has a P100-million Development of the Salt Industry Project (DSIP) under the Special Budget Request (SBR) of the Congressional-Introduced Initiative Project but was apparently not implemented fully well.

Covering Regions 1, 6, and 9, the project aims to increase salt production and produce excellent quality salt through enhancement and improvement of the different methods and practices on salt production and product compliance to food safety standards.