Sacks of beautiful, large cucumbers were disposed in Long-long, Puguis, La Trinidad, Benguet. Photo by Jharex Pasaoa via Chef Jam Melchor's Facebook page
Culture Spotlight

Benguet farmers are disposing sacks and sacks of perfectly fine pipino — here’s what can be done

Too much mangoes, garlic, and now cucumbers—what the Agriculture Department, and the farmers themselves can and should do as long term solutions so that little to no produce go to waste
Nana Ozaeta | Jul 08 2019

What happens when farmers are stuck with more produce than they can sell? It seems that they’ve been running to Chef Jam Melchor to help save the day—and he’s not exactly happy.

As founder of the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement and country head of the Slow Food Youth Network Philippines, Chef Jam was recently showcased as a culinary advocate in ANCX’s series, Heroes & Titans. Poised and soft spoken, this young Kapampangan chef shared a simple truth about the urgency of the work he does: “In a hungry country, we don’t have the right to waste food.”

Get to know ANCX's Heroes and Titans:

This season, our mango farmers produce about 100 tons per week, according to Chef Jam in a Facebook post. Photo from Chef Jam Melchor's Facebook page

On that very subject, two of Chef Jam’s posts recently went viral on Facebook. On May 31, he posted: “Food industry friends, we need to help our mango farmers! Sweet, velvety, soft and scandalously succulent—we have the best mangoes in the world!” These farmers had produced a surplus of 100 tons of mangoes and were frantically looking for buyers so that they wouldn’t have to dump their crops.

Garlic farmers in Lubang, Occidental Mindoro sought help to dispose 70 tons of garlic. Photo from Chef Jam Melchor's Facebook page

Then on June 17, Chef Jam posted another desperate plea, this time from garlic farmers: “After my call to action about the mango situation that went viral, I have been receiving messages from different farmers across the country asking for help in promoting their crops. These photos of garlic were taken from Lubang, Occidental Mindoro. Producers are trying to dispose 70 tons.” Rather than an oversupply, the garlic farmers were being crowded out of the garlic market, with imported garlic selling for much less. According to Chef Jam, garlic growers only produce around 6% of total national consumption, with the rest coming from countries like China, Taiwan, and India.

In both the mango and garlic calls to action, netizens were quick to answer Chef Jam’s posts, and soon those 100 tons of mangoes and 70 tons of garlic were bought up by hotels, restaurants, various institutions, and concerned citizens. Through social media, he managed to connect farmers with direct buyers who had no problems buying produce by the ton. In a June 1 post, Chef Jam wrote: “Imagine if all of these establishments would purchase their raw materials from local producers directly, then they could already be helping our farmers and fisherfolks while they still make money.”

The problem seems to be clear—the farmers are harvesting their crops but not finding the right buyers, especially at fair prices. Chef Jam just couldn’t stand by the wayside to let those mangoes and garlic, and the massive amount of labor and resources invested in them, go to waste. Thankfully, he was there to save the day one FB post at a time. 

However, on July 4, Chef Jam admitted to ANCX that he was taking a step back from his “hero” work with the hopes that farmers would instead go directly to the Department of Agriculture to ask for help, rather than having to depend on the power and whims of social media. But then it seems that he had spoken too soon.

Photo by Jharex Pasaoa via Chef Jam Melchor's Facebook page

Just yesterday, July 7, Chef Jam posted a new plea on his Facebook page: “Sabi ko sa sarili ko (I told myself), I will just keep quiet muna after the mango and garlic issue that went viral. But how can you keep quiet if you keep on seeing things like this happening. Sino nga ba ang dapat magsalita? (Who should really be the one to talk?)” 

This time, it’s cucumbers that are in danger. Describing the accompanying photo to his post, he wrote, “This picture is from Long-long, Puguis, La Trinidad, Benguet. Farmers decided to DISPOSE these beautiful large pipinos (Cucumber). According to my source, sako sako na daw ang nadispose lang sa (many sacks were just disposed at the) trading post within their area.” 

With much exasperation and a note of desperation, he pleaded, “I am appealing to the Department of Agriculture - Philippines and DA Cordillera regional office to monitor the farmers’ situation and provide immediate assistance. We need concrete and sustainable solutions.” But he wasn’t letting farmers off the hook either, as he added: “To our farmers naman, we cannot let this happen over and over again. Hindi pwedeng kada gulay, ipapa viral natin para maka benta or maka kuha ngsympathy. Ilapit niyo ang produce niyo saDA para matulungan kayo to look for market. (It can’t be that with every vegetable, you make this go viral to be able to sell and garner sympathy. Approach the DA so that they can help you look for a market.)”

Slow Food Youth Network Philippines country head Chef Jam Melchor. Photo by Patrick Mateo at Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila

So how can the problem be solved? In a text message to ANCX, Chef Jam acknowledges the complexity of the challenge at hand, “Madami marketing activities ang DA but there are many factors also that need to be addressed other than just adding value to some crops, like putting up big storage facilities, improving logistics and distribution system, and of course regulating traders, para they won’t take so much advantage of the farmers.”

Yes, the DA is doing something, but it is nowhere near enough. He elaborates, “I think the government needs to work hand in hand with the farmers and vice versa. Massive campaign and training should be done to educate them more. There seems to be a disconnect kasi eh.” And perhaps his one exasperated post will be the catalyst to better communication and coordination between farmer and government.

Chef Jam’s social media posts galvanized netizens to help the farmers, but it was by no means designed as a sustained campaign. So what can concerned citizens and the private sector do to help? He answers, “We have to keep an eye on what’s happening. Two of the main issues in our country today are the threat to food security and food sovereignty. We have to keep the discussion going para at least maging aware ang mga tao. At some point manindigan din sila.” Indeed, fighting words from a chef who isn’t just passionate about Filipino food, but about the entire food chain, including the farmers and fisherfolk who produce or catch the ingredients we cook with. And like any good cook, Chef Jam lives and acts by this one simple mantra: “Wasting food is not good in any form.”