By Tracy Cabrera
MANILA — Lawmakers from both the Senate and House of Representatives are urging health authorities to prioritize agriculture workers in the government’s national vaccination program, stressing that farmers are essential in efforts for economic recovery as well as food security.
Lady senator Cynthia Villar, head of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, particularly expressed her desire for the inclusion of so called ‘viajeros’, or traders and wet market retailers, in the front line of the vaccine programs, as they have been ‘left behind’ during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Farm and food workers remain underrepresented despite their crucial role in maintaining (our) food security,” Villar pointed out.
Even senator Francis Pangilinan, who also supported the call, noted that most farmers do not have access to hospitals and are without IDs, which would make it difficult for them to secure the needed vaccine jabs now that the rollouts have already begun.
“They are also most exposed to the virus. They link consumers to farmers. They deserve to be part of the priority list,” Pangilinan said in reference to food traders and retailers.
Although the national government has deemed food industry workers to be essential—including farmers, fishers, and other members of the agriculture value chain—it remains to be seen how soon they will be immunized.
It was only on Monday, when the country started vaccinations against the coronavirus, using Sinovac Biotech Ltd. doses donated by China.
According to interior and local government spokesperson undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, of the 600,000 doses donated, 500,000 would be administered to health workers while the remaining 100,000 would be given to military personnel as per China’s request.
Others who pledged their support to the inclusion of farmers and fishers in the first wave of inoculation were senators Risa Hontiveros and Grace Poe-Llamanzares as well, representatives Argel Cabatbat of the Magsasaka party-list and Conrado Estrella III of Abono.
“(Farmers and fisherfolk) are also victims of the pandemic and their plight has been worsened by the series of typhoons that came. And yet, they toil every day to ensure that Filipinos would not go hungry. This is why they should be part of the prioritized in the government’s game plan to control Covid-19,” Pangilinan emphasized.
For his part, Estrella said many local governments whose residents are mostly farmers and fishers in poor municipalities reached out to his office for help as most of their budgets were used to fund programs meant to squash the impact of the pandemic.
“Many small-scale fishers, farmers, and agricultural workers are asking when and how they would be vaccinated,” the solon added.
Hontiveros urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to step up and swiftly make representations to the vaccine, committee to include all food producers in the Duterte administration’s inoculation plan.
“Our farmers and fisher folk are key to ensuring food security, especially now that we are facing an impending hunger crisis as food prices continue to soar. Food producers should be healthy to ensure the sustainability of production, thus it is imperative to re-categorize them as essential workers in the vaccination priority list,” she concluded.