OBLIQUE OBSERVATIONS

By Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

Go out. Shut the door. Listen from the outside. This is one of the tenets of “Oblique Strategies” as written by Peter Schmidt, another practitioner of the oblique approach. There are times when you have to get out of your comfort zone and look at problems in a different way and maybe even listen to external and new input.

Recently, there were reports of garlic and cabbages rotting in Northern Luzon. Given the issues of food security being tackled today, these incidents need to be taken seriously. As usual, pundits played the blame game and expressed their extreme displeasure over the incidents. This, however, is not a new occurrence. There have been instances in the past where food had to go to waste because of prices, logistics, and other causes.

Images of rotten vegetables being disposed of and fishermen throwing their catch because no one would buy their produce at the proper price have been in the news for the past few years. This is called food loss. Food loss occurs when agricultural products are wasted during the process of food distribution in the supply chain. It is said that “there is enough food in the world for everyone, but one-third of all food is wasted globally according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (Gustavsson et al., 2011).

Often, government and private stakeholders look at the problem in terms of simple marketing and subsidy. Some view this as an “oversupply” problem created by food producers. Unfortunately, food loss is a complicated problem involving several factors, not the least of which are the lack of post-harvest facilities and handling problems in the multi-layered distribution system. Perhaps, it is time to reassess the problem and look to science for possible remedies to alleviate the situation.

Science and technology have always had a great impact on agriculture. From the invention of the hoe and the plow to the use of GPS and biotechnology, the impact of innovations cannot be denied. Unfortunately, there are some factors that prevent present managers in both government and the private sector from fully utilizing new technology for these problems.

The biggest roadblock to innovation however is our age-old bias toward the cheapest acquisition cost. Enshrined even in our government procurement laws is the tenet that government should purchase the cheapest item possible. While this is a laudable principle given the possibilities for corruption, this is counterproductive for problems and needs that will need different and new solutions.

It is unfortunate that aggressive and progressive managers are often hampered by uninformed senior managers and so-called analysts who shout overpricing when the cheapest and most ineffective equipment is not bought. These myopic bean counters are actually the ones to blame for the lack of innovation in our system.

There are times when machines and technology with higher acquisition costs are needed and are often more cost-efficient in the end. In human resources, there is a saying “you pay peanuts you get monkeys”. This can also be applied to equipment procurement. You get what you pay for.

The science and technology to help solve the problem of geographical and time phase “oversupply” are already here in our country. One such technology is the advanced mobile cold chain system. These cold chain facilities are contained in mobile plug-and-play containers which can be transported anywhere in the country. They can be attached to any power supply but for areas with little or no power supply a collateral technology of mobile combo renewable energy generators could be attached to the same. With its single-phase design, its energy requirement is so low that the user could save 75 percent of normal electric usage for ordinary and outdated cold storage facilities.

These working cold chain facilities are already being used by Food Terminal Inc. (FTI). Purchased under the visionary leadership of its former President and chief executive officer (CEO), the late Ariel Buenaventura, these facilities were an integral part of his 5-year Reinvigoration Program of FTI. This plan would have revived FTI’s main mandate of helping ensure food supplies by assisting food producers with post-harvest chain logistics. It is unfortunate that “bean counters” are again threatening this new technology with suggestions to go back to cheaper and simpler models of yore.

Perhaps it is time to look to new and more cost-effective technology. Perhaps, it is time to invest in efficient cold storage and other collateral technology. Perhaps it is time to revisit the basic tenets of procurements and modify the same to adjust to the changing needs of the present. Perhaps it is time to retire some of the old bean counters.

This is just my oblique observation.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Office of the Press Secretary.

About the Columnist

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ATTY. GILBERTO LAUENGCO, J.D. is a lawyer, educator, political strategist, government consultant, Lego enthusiast, and the director of CAER Think Tank. He is a Former Vice Chairman of MECO, Special Assistant of NFA and City Administrator among others. His broad experience has molded his unique approach to issues analysis which he calls the oblique observation.