Practical Solutions for Filipino Farmers and Market Fluctuations

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Problem: Small scale Filipino farmers plant not knowing what the price will be by the time the crop is ready for harvest. When the price drops due to oversupply of vegetables the farmers barely make enough and sometimes even end up dumping their crops because the cost of transportation is greater than the value of the vegetables.

The problem is three-fold. First, it is the inability of farmers to see the whole picture of who is planting what crops, which results in overproduction and then drives market prices down. Second, it is a problem of markets being mostly local, with little to no access to other markets, this keeps prices lower. Third, there is not enough coordination between domestic farmers and government agencies that control the importation of agricultural goods.

Solution: The Department of Agriculture (Philippines) needs to study the market to find out what amount of vegetable production is needed. Once they establish a baseline, then they should come up with a voluntary program that will aid farmers in deciding what crops to plant today based on their projections of future demand.

The Department of Agriculture (Philippines) could issue a quota voucher to farmers, who had enrolled in the program, to plant crops based on the projections and granting them certain protections for if the market price does drop. In other words, if there is a market need for a particular amount of green beans then the agency could issue a proportional number of vouchers. This, assuming import controls, would stabilize the markets and prices. And, if the market price dropped anyways, abiding by the voucher system would entitle the farmer to some compensation.

Another way to get better prices for isolated farmers is to facilitate the connection to a broader market. Access to markets beyond the local region is one way to increase the value of crops produced and also to stabilize price fluctuations. Government contracted transportation and distribution could be a part of this or it could be entirely put out to bids with private contractors. The transportation costs to be offset by the better prices in the destination market, the farmer would get the voucher guarantee price and the rest would go to the transportation contractor.

This sort of analysis and organization could also be done independently of the government. But it would take a significant investment. The national government would be in a better position to facilitate this than a private entity of limited resources. That said, universities could help to develop the models of the agricultural markets necessary to determine how many vouchers should be issued for each kind of crop. It would need to be a collaborative effort. Maybe with the help of transportation cooperatives between these small-scale farmers?

And one key is to incorporate the local ‘grassroots’ input, as well, as a strictly top-down central planning agency would likely fail. Central planning generally doesn’t work and especially not when it removes the autonomy of individuals to act in their own self-interest or allow choice. Participantion would need to be voluntary and incentives market-based rather than artificial. Ideally it would be self-sustaining and entirely funded by the beneficiaries.

Finally, yes, protectionism may be bad in excess, as in North Korea. However, any country that wishes to maintain domestic industry and jobs must moderate foreign imports. Haitian farmers learned this lesson the hard way when cheap, subsidized, rice exports from the United States destroyed their already meager profits and forced more of them to compete for the limited opportunities for employment in the cities. So it is incumbent, on the government of the Philippines, to control agricultural imports for the benefit of domestic producers.

Anyhow, some ideas.

Made In Taiwan

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I started writing this blog while going through security at Taiwan’s Taoyuan International Airport and feeling sad because of what I left behind for a return to the old routine. But I’m also grateful, once again, for the opportunity to travel to the other side of the world to meet someone and make a few friends along the way.

And, speaking of new friends, when I had arrived a couple weeks earlier, the Taiwanese taxi driver—commonly referred to as “my friend” by the Filipinos working there for his habitual use of those words when answering the phone—was there (with my hosts) to fetch me at the airport. And, indeed, he was extremely friendly and only a few years younger than me. He could also carry a conversation in English.

We were both into cars.

We agreed, passing a Tesla, that the electric vehicle was too expensive and impractical.

Taiwan has a wide variety of vehicles. I saw everything from scooters, big rigs and strange small trucks to Audi’s, Beemers, and Bentley’s. Of course, I also saw Ford Focusses, like my own sitting at JFK Discount Parking, and a few other models also found in the United States. Sedans are much more common, pick-up trucks (besides the occasional Ranger) are almost non-existent, and did I say that scooters are everywhere once you get off the highways?

I used all forms of public transportation while there, taking a city bus or employing “my friend” to drive us in and out of Hsinchu City to the malls and restaurants there. We also rode the train to Houli Flower Farm, in Taichung, to take in the flower exhibit and horse ranch there. We took the express train, by accident, on our way to the zoo to Taipei. We thought we could use our “Yoyo” card (or at least that’s how “悠遊卡” sounds when you use the card) and stand on the express, but the conductor politely informed us we needed tickets and found us some seats. However, the more economical and efficient option was to take the direct line bus and we did on our later visit to Taipei.

My time in Taiwan revolved around the life of the Filipino workers there. I stayed in an apartment near the dormitories where they live. The Filipinos are drawn, away from their families and friends back home, by the better pay of electronics factories in Taiwan. It is not easy for them, but oftentimes their families rely on the extra income they earn and thus they make the sacrifice. With these Pinoy expatriates, I dined on the local Filipino and Taiwanese fare, explored the aforementioned touristy sites, and visited a small Filipino church (of a Protestant variety) in Hsinchu—enjoying a Sunday afternoon with “Pastora” after the service.

The food in Taiwan was delicious. One of my favorite dinnertime destinations being the “Shabu-shabu” restaurants—each place at the table had a burner, you would go, salad bar style, to select from an array of meat, seafood and vegetable options, then cook everything together in the boiling pot full of water.

Some pictures…

Oh, and in case you were wondering, McDonald’s still tastes like McDonald’s on the other side of the world. We had some while at the zoo.

Anyhow, here are some pictures of me horsing around at the flower farm…

Taking in the sights around Hsinchu City…

A Buddhist temple…

The smaller of two malls in Hsinchu City…

On top of world in the amazing Taipei 101…

National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Some random observations: A long dress don’t make a woman religious in Taiwan. The country, especially the region where I was, is bristling with industry and the multi-floor factories, scattered amongst the small farm plots, were no doubt churning out many goods destined for the United States. The cities have gardens in backyards rather than graffiti on the walls and crime is relatively low.

My only regret from the trip is the short layover in South Korea and not being able to visit some friends living there, otherwise it was an awesome trip and I look forward to next time!

The Beautiful City of Baguio

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It was a great relief to finally meet Charlotte.  We met outside the terminal in Manila and to accompany on the final part of my journey to Baguio.  I had left central Pennsylvania at 4 p.m. (EST) on Christmas day for a four-hour drive to NYC, boarded the Korean Air 747 (after navigating the check-in procedures at JFK) a little after midnight, arrived in Seoul about 5 a.m. (their time) and arrived in the Philippines around noon.

It was dark when we finally arrived in Baguio, a city with an altitude of 5000 feet (nearly as high as Denver, CO) and a history tied to U.S. colonialism.  Baguio, with a population of several hundred thousand, was established in 1900 by the Americans as a refuge from the searing Manila heat.  It is dubbed the “summer capital of the Philippines” because of the cooler temperatures found there and remains a popular Filipino destination.

The many lights dotting the hills were a beautiful sight as we rolled around the bend.  The weather was very pleasant when we waited at the bus stop for Charlotte’s uncle (Roland) to pick us up and take us to one of those houses perched on the side of the mountain.  Soon I was carrying my bags up, around and through the twists and turns that led to my home of the next few days.  It was strange crawling into bed that night realizing the day was just starting where I came from.

Baguio overview….

One of the best views in the city was from the apartment of Charlotte’s parents and that is where the following pictures were taken.  It was truly a spectacular view, there is no camera lens in the world that can possibly capture the color and depth, you’ll have to go there if you really want to appreciate the fullness.  But, for a small taste…

In the city…

We went to various locations around the city over the next few days.  There are various government buildings, markets with hundreds of vendors selling all manner of things, Burnham park in the heart of the city, McDonalds (and other US franchises) and a huge mall…

Transportation…

Driving presents a unique challenge, given the steep grades, busy roads and lack of parking available.  The roads into the residential parts of the city are too narrow at many points for two cars to comfortably pass and, in those cases, the car going down usually yields to the one climbing the hill.  Adding to the required skill is that most vehicles there have manual transmissions.

Oh, and everything is diesel powered, including many of the late model Ford Rangers that I loved so much.  Toyota, however, seems to be the favorite of the local population and the Tamaraw FX is everywhere.  Of course, then there’s the Jeepneys for public transportation, a vehicle that resembles a Willys Jeep that got stretched and turned into a piece of mobile artwork.  There was even a Ford Mustang (look closely at the last picture in this series) making its way through traffic in Baguio…

Trip to lowlands…

To celebrate New Year’s day the family loaded up and headed down to a resort in the lowlands.  That took us down Kennon road, past the Lion’s head and eventually to the Hundred Islands National Park where we loaded up for the boat tour.  That was a wonderful time of picnics, swimming and time together.  It was also an introduction to a slightly different version of Filipino life and a place where little motorcycles with sidecars (or “tricycles” as they called them) ruled the roads…

Igorot heritage…

The more fascinating parts of my visit to Baguio was learning about the local culture.  The Igorot people, who make up most of the Baguio population, were farming in the mountains there long before the Europeans arrived and still celebrate this unique heritage…

Family…

There was one thing more wonderful than anything else and that being the warm welcome.  I was treated as family and felt right at home.  In fact, it made me think about how truly deficient we are of this kind of true connection in the U.S.  Real wealth is not having an accumulation of stuff, real wealth is being a part of a family and loved…

The “culture shock” for me came upon my return to the U.S. and being alone again in Marriott room provided in Atlanta where we were diverted less than an hour from landing in NYC.  Sure, I didn’t need to use a bucket and water scoop to shower or flush the toilet, but I missed being called “Tito” (uncle) by children wanting my attention.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the wide open spaces of Pennsylvania and did miss my Ford Focus too.  However, I could see myself going back to Baguio.  There are plenty of seats on a 747 if any of you wish to join me!

Tesla’s Uphill Battle in the Trucking Industry…

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There is no question that Elon Musk has changed the conversation as far as electric vehicles.  Musk, unlike his predecessors, focused on building an image of luxury and performance.

Electric powered vehicles, until the Tesla Model S arrived as an option, were boring, slow and impractical.  Now, while Musk’s cars still remain impractical for most people (both in terms of range and price) and while it remains to be seen whether or not his company could survive without corporate welfare, Tesla has at least undone some of the negative image of electric vehicles.

Tesla seems to be taking one more step in the direction of practicality with the introduction of commercial vehicle.  Semi, this latest opportunity for Musk to attract media attention, reminds me of something I would’ve drawn up in a middle school daydream: It has a sleek exterior, it is loaded up with LCD screens, it promises to perform at a level one would expect from a sports car, it is priced similar to other Class 8 trucks, and yet also makes me question if any experienced truck drivers were consulted in the design process…

Sure, middle school me would be salivating over this technological wonder.  However now, as one having had years of experience behind the wheel of a big rig, the center seating position, glare of screens, wheel fenders and charging times make it totally unappealing to me.

The ergonomic and design issues, obvious from a driver’s perspective, are covered in another former trucker’s article (click here if you want to know more about them) but there are more serious matters and practical concerns yet to be addressed.  Acceleration numbers and having the fastest truck on the road might increase coolness factor, but it might also leave all of your cargo on the road (or like the unmitigated disaster recalled unfondly from my days unloading trucks at the paint store) and distracts from questions of actual viability in the real world.

To many the promised 300-500 mile range and 30 minute recharging may seem wonderful. But, from a trucking industry standard, it is truly abysmal and completely impractical.  The range of an over-the-road diesel truck, with 250 gallons of fuel, is anywhere from 1000 to 2000 miles and it only takes fifteen minutes every other day to refill the tanks—multiple extra stops per day is intolerable given the current hours of service requirements.  

And, that’s assuming good conditions, what happens in cold weather when battery capacity is reduced by 40-50% like owners of other Telsa products have experienced?

It is no big secret that fossil fuels carry a greater amount of energy per pound than the alternatives currently available. This energy density is especially important in commercial trucking where every ounce of extra weight takes away from payload.  Batteries with the range Telsa has promised will certainly be very heavy and that will be a huge competive disadvantage.  It means you might need an additional Tesla truck to do what one diesel truck does—which wipes out any illusion of energy savings and cost effectiveness.

Then there is the question of longevity and servicing the truck.  It could very well be that the Tesla Semi will be completely reliable and go a million miles like a diesel truck.  But, even assuming that is the case, what sort of maintenance program and roadside assistance will they offer when things do inevitably go wrong?  Service infrastructure is a more significant in commercial trucking than it is in general.  Diesels are relatively easy to work on and the network is already established—those are questions that must be answered.

My own back-of-the-napkin analysis, based in what has already been said and can be reasonably assumed, is that this new Tesla offering will have the same liabilities of other battery electric vehicles except on a far larger scale.  The question of Tesla being the future of trucking (or is simply a niché vehicle for those who can afford the unavoidable range and weight disadvantages, as well as potential maintenance issues) is not answered.

Trucking companies, unlike wealthy luxury car buyers aided by government subsidies, need to be profitable and competive to survive.

What do my trucker friends think?