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By Miguel Raymundo

Business cartels always had their way with the government. How the abuse of their control over government hits the consumers again gets public attention on the price hike of garlic.

Garlic, a food ingredient, has not gone scarce in the market. Only that its price has shot up 900 percent from P17.00 to P300.00 per kilo. The conclusion of Senator Cynthia Villar is this is price manipulation.

Everybody is guessing what caused this. Was it a surge in demand for the food ingredient? Did supply decline? If things were normal except for a spike in prices, what gave the courage to traders and the cartel to manipulate the prices?

In a hearing in the Senate called by Sen. Cynthia Villar, government officials and industry leaders admitted the spike in the price of garlic stemmed from price manipulation.

While the garlic price shot up to outrageous level, consumers also suffered price spike in rice, basic food commodity in the country.

Price of well-milled rice shot up by 19 percent from its year ago prices. Commercial rice was selling at minimum of P42.00 per kilo in the market.

The price hike in rice, though, benefitted farmers as farm gate prices of palay went up to P25.00 per kilo.
Food cartels are moving, preparing to control their respective markets, with the garlic and food ingredient group taking the first bold move.

In this country cartels get what they want. They can force the President to reorganize government to accommodate their interests. And this power was again confirmed at the Department of Agriculture where these food cartels dictate their terms of engagement.

A secretary of agriculture is always at the mercy of these cartels. And Secretary Proceso Alcala of the DA is the latest victim of this cartel’s influence in government.

The DA under Alcala was lately chopped and taken away from him were “problematic” agencies like the NFA, PCA, and NIA. These agencies were given to former Senator Francisco Pangilinan, now the country’s food czar.He now sits in PNoy’s official cabinet.

Alcala refused to be dictated by the rice cartel and other food cartels. Instead,he went to the farms and encouraged farmers to plant more. He made it hard for the cartel to operate and contained massive rice smuggling.
Sources in the agriculture sector say Alcala’s vigilance and independence from the rice cartel ended up with savings in tens of billions of pesos in rice importation.

Same sources said, more than savings, Alcala was pushing for higher local production and improved food security. There is no food security in rice and farm product importation. He was pushing for higher income to farmers to encourage local production.

“Smuggling farm product is the cause of slow death of agriculture in the country,” they said.

But those billions of pesos lost by the cartels funded his removal. The strongest lobby to oust a cabinet member supported by media budget in tens of millions of pesos did Alcala in. He lost to the rice cartel lobby and is now a paper tiger in the farmers’ fight against powerful traders.

That the garlic cartel is not bothered a bit by some senators concern over this price manipulation could only mean confidence on their hold on some government officials, some of them in Malacañang.
With the price manipulation earning for these garlic and food ingredient traders over Php25Billion, they can buy everyone and anyone in this government.

Virginia De Villa: Making Pinoy Chocolate World Class

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As a big fan of all things chocolate, Virginia De Villa, or Gigi as most people know her, had her childhood imagination fired up by the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a book by Roald Dahl turned into two films, about a poor boy who suddenly inherited a magical chocolate factory.

As co-founder and spokesperson of Reál Cacao, a local manufacturer of chocolate confectioneries and other chocolate-based products, Gigi has known that the Philippines is one of the suppliers of cacao beans to big international chocolate brands.

She remarks that despite being supplier to major chocolate brands, the Philippines chocolate industry has yet to produce local high quality chocolate that can compete on the global market, alongside Hershey’s and Cadbury.

Social Enterprise
This is where Reál Cacao comes in. The company is a social enterprise that helps Filipino cacao farmers make more profits from their cacao cash crops through education, training, and empowerment.

At the same time, Reál Cacao intends to lead the way for Filipino chocolate companies to become leading brands in the international chocolate market.

Some of us would ask, how can social enterprises help strengthen the agricultural sector? How can social enterprise and agriculture bring about national economic development?

As far as Gigi is concerned, revitalizing the local chocolate is one key.

Gigi proudly shares that Reál Cacao is a social enterprise that aims to create world-class Filipino chocolates, while giving opportunities to cacao farmers around the Philippines.

She believes that social enterprise is one way that Filipino entrepreneurs can help in nation building.

She says, “As a social enterprise, we are challenged not just to think of creating products but to also think of how we can make a dent in the industry if we want to bring as many communities as we can out of poverty.”

Gigi thinks that companies in the country are capable of helping end poverty in the agricultural sector if they take the social enterprise approach.

“One of the many issues our cacao farmers face is the lack of access to post-harvest facilities which will enable them to create value-adding cacao products,” she says.

The Philippines has a total agricultural land area of 9.671 million hectares. The farmer sector accounts for the largest share in the labor force with 32% of the workforce in agricultural jobs.

In spite of these figures, the farming sector is still one of the poorest in the country.

World Class and Homegrown
What makes Reál Cacao different from foreign chocolate brands is that it offers world-class chocolate products with a homegrown taste to ensure a Reál and royal chocolate experience.

Gigi proudly tells customers that Reál Cacao is the Filipino chocolate with a homegrown taste and world-class quality.

Part of the company’s vision is to stay true to the origin of the word “reál”. That includes being true to their purpose, which is to uplift the lives of Filipino cacao farmers and make them feel proud of their work.

She says, “My dream is that someday our farmers can say with dignity, ‘We are farmers’ instead of saying, ‘We are just farmers’.