Grains of Truth: Food Producers Suffer Hunger, Poverty

High cost of farm inputs

Eligio Macagba, 66, owns more than three hectares of land in Barangay San Luis, Roxas in Isabela province. As an agrarian reform beneficiary, he paid the government P3,070 a year for 15 years, from 1974 to 1989, after which he was given a land title.

Although he owns the land he tills, Mang Eligio, in an interview with Bulatlat, still complained of the high price of farm inputs.

His expenses last planting season included: hybrid seeds at P 1,200 per sack and used two sacks per hectare for a total of P7,200; urea fertilizer at P820 per sack and used two sacks per hectare or a total of P 4,920; and 16-20-0 fertilizer at P800 per sack and used three sacks per hectare for a total of P7,200.

He also had to use two kinds of pesticides: three quarts of herbicide per hectare at P400 per quart or a total of P3,600 and three quarts per hectare of the pesticide to protect the ricefield from kuhol at P1,000 per quart or a total of P9,000.

Mang Eligio also paid 10 seasonal farm workers P1,000 per hectare or a total of P3,000 for planting and another P2,880 per hectare for eight farm workers for bunot-punla (harvesting) or a total of P8,640.

For his three hectares of land, Mang Eligio shelled out a total of P43,560 for farm inputs and farm workers’ wages.

According to Joseph Canlas, chair of the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL or Alliance of Peasants in Central Luzon), the price of fertilizers has doubled this year as compared to last year making lives more miserable for small farmers. From P420 per sack, the price of urea has reached P850. Another fertilizer, the 141414 or triple katorse today cost P675 per sack from P375 last year.

Struggling for survival

Last Oct. 20, some 1,500 farmers from Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog trooped to Manila to voice their plight. They held what they called a “street conference” in front of the Department of Agriculture’s main gate in Quezon City.

The farmers had declared a two-day farm strike to decry their worsening situation. Their demand: an increase in palay’s farm gate price which now ranges from P7 to P10 a kilo. The farmers are seeking that it be raised to P15 per kilo.

If the peasants’ demand is met, Mang Celestino would get a gross income of P 16,125. “Makakabayad ako sa utang at may matitira pang pera kahit konti” (I can pay my debts and there could be something left), he said.

But given that a family of six in Region II where Mang Celestino’s province is located needs an average of P455 a day or P13,650 a month to survive, whatever extra he would have left after paying off his debts would still never be enough for his family to live on, until the next harvest season.

The KMP in a statement said that the price of palay has remained the same since 1990.

KMP secretary-general Danilo Ramos, himself a peasant from Bulacan, 40 kms south of Manila, suggested that the government, through the National Food Authority (NFA), should increase its procurement of locally-produced rice to 25 percent from its mandated 10 percent.

“The government should buy more of the farmers’ produce so they would not be forced to sell to unscrupulous traders,” he said.

The peasant leader added that in the past few years, the NFA only buys one percent of the total amount of locally produced rice. He said this is due to the Arroyo government’s policy of trade liberalization that allows the entry of foreign produced rice that cost lower at the world market.

The government’s policy stated that the liberalization of the rice industry would make the cost of rice cheaper in the local market.

On the contrary, Ramos said that there has been a 100 to 300 percent average increase in the price of rice since 1994 when the country entered the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and, a year later, the World Trade Organization (WTO).

KMP statistics show that in 1994, NFA rice cost P8.44 a kilo; ordinary rice is P8.86 and special rice is P9.50. Today, NFA rice already cost P16 a kilo; ordinary rice is priced from P17 to P18 while special rice varies from P20 to P28.

But while the local market price of rice has increased by 100 to 300 percent in 16 years, the farm gate price of palay is nailed down to its price since 1990.

Nagsusumikap kami pero wala naman kaming napapala” (We’re working very hard but we get nothing), said Aling Mira adding that she and thousands of farmers like her hope that the government will listen and take action to their demand of raising the farm gate price of palay. “Sana unawain kaming mga mahihirap” (They should listen to us), she said adding that it has been decades that they feel the pain of the irony that the primary food producers in the country are the ones who are left hungry and poor. (

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