First of two parts
For generations, many farming villages in the Cordillera mountain region, northern Philippines were self-sufficient in food. But Marcos’ “Green Revolution” and, in recent years, trade liberalization have erased all that. Today, the production of major vegetable crops has fallen in the process uprooting tens of thousands of indigenous peasants.
BY FERNANDO BAGYAN AND LULU GIMENEZ
BAGUIO CITY – For generations, many farming villages in the Cordillera mountain region, northern Philippines were self-sufficient in food. The introduction of cash crop production particularly through Marcos’ “Green Revolution” and, in recent years, trade liberalization has erased all that, however. Today, the production of major vegetable crops has fallen in the process uprooting tens of thousands of indigenous peasants.
Farming generally has been a major problem in the Cordillera region given its harsh mountain environment. Its topsoil layer is thin since nearly 61 percent of the region is sloped. Although the peasants have succeeded in taming the ridges through terracing, they have not been able to create any wide fields.
Altitudes climb to as high as 2,900 meters and temperatures drop to as low as 4o celsius. Winds can race to a velocity of 240 kph. As much as 1.5 meters of rain may fall on a single day. These factors make crop, livestock, and fish production difficult and even risky. Not surprisingly, population growth has outpaced the traditional subsistence agriculture. This is particularly true for wet-rice production, a practice that dates as early as the 12th century.
Since the 1970s, Philippine agriculture authorities have aggressively introduced new crop breeds to Cordillera communities. These included the Marcos government’s counterpart in the worldwide Green Revolution program which was financed by the World Bank; the Philippine-German Seed Potato and Fruit Tree Projects; the Highland Agricultural Development Program and the Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resource Management Project, which were financed by the Asian Development Bank; the Central Cordillera Agricultural Program and the Caraballo and Southern Cordillera Agricultural Development Program which were funded by the European Union.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo went even further. Since assuming the presidency through a second people power in 2001, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has shifted to partnership with the private sector, introducing new types of seeds alongside the market development efforts of transnational corporations.
In the early years, agriculture authorities introduced rice, vegetable, and fruit varieties of the Green Revolution type (i.e., the type that is supposed to deliver higher yields with higher levels of chemical fertilizer and pesticide utilization). More recently, the DA introduced hybrids that would deliver even higher yields, but only on F1 or first-generation planting. Now the department is also introducing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).
Terminators and transgenics
In particular, two types of GMOs are being promoted. The first are the terminators, which deliver yields as high as those of the hybrids, but only on first-generation planting, and thus, together with the hybrids, are commonly known as “suicide seeds.” The second are the transgenics, which are highly productive, resilient, and pest-resistant, but require heavy doses of chemicals, this time to regulate gene activity or control its effects.
To cultivate the old Green Revolution breeds, the new “suicide seeds,” and the transgenics huge amounts of money are spent for the seeds as well as agrochemicals. However, like their counterparts in other regions, peasants in the Cordillera are always cash-strapped. To acquire farm inputs, many of them enter into credit financing or supplying arrangements with the same merchants trade their produce.
In the Cordillera, the terms of rural credit are mostly usurious – with interest rates that range from 10 percent to 20 percent every month, and even reach up to 100 percent for every cropping season. To top it all, the credit financing or supplying contracts offered to peasants are mostly lopsided in favor of the merchants further forcing the peasants to indebtedness. More and more Cordillera peasants have been drawn into high-input cash-crop production simply because their traditional low-input production is no longer enough to meet even their basic subsistence.
Yet cash-crop or market-oriented production gives them little subsistence security. Prices rise and fall not only because of fluctuations in supply and demand, but also because of distorting manipulations of the market by deeply-entrenched merchant cartels and by the transnational Nestlé, which enjoys a veritable monopsony on Philippine coffee, buying as it does 95 percent of the entire country’s production.
In 2001 and 2002, the Philippine domestic market for many Cordillera product lines crashed repeatedly as a result of the liberalized importation of agricultural goods. By 2003, many Cordillera peasants had been forced out of the vegetable trade with regional production of major vegetable crops for the market falling by an average of nearly 49 percent, based on data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics branch in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). While some peasants who had been displaced from the market made do by reverting to low-input subsistence production, others could not and were forced out of agriculture altogether, because they either had lost access to the necessary seed stocks or were tilling land that had been too badly degraded by agrochemicals to support low-input farming.
The result has been the aggravation of food insufficiency, already pegged at 31.1 percent of Cordillera households, according to the 2000 Census of Population and Housing. With research from APIT TAKO Ifugao Organizing Committee (Bulatlat.com)