75% of Benguet Farmers Earn Less Due to Liberalization

Since the start of vegetable importation in 2002, about three-fourths of Benguet farmers have been incurring incomes barely enough to provide for their family’s needs.

Northern Dispatch

BAGUIO CITY (246 kilometers from Manila) — Since the start of vegetable importation in 2002, about three-fourths of Benguet farmers have been incurring incomes barely enough to provide for their family’s needs.

Prof. Ruth Sidchogan-Batani of the Tebtebba Foundation Research Desk presented her paper on the impact of the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in the Study Session on Indigenous Women and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) at the Pines View Hotel here.

She said that a study among Benguet farmers before and after vegetable importation showed that around 75% of them earn incomes that are not enough to support their households.

Majority of the respondents claimed that before July 2002 when vegetable importation was not yet allowed, they were earning enough.

Batani also cited a separate report from the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) which highlighted a negative 3 percent performance of semi-temperate vegetables and fruits grown in Benguet and Mountain Province in 2002.

Her study showed that prior to allowing vegetable importation in July 2002, only 4.76 percent of vegetable farmers studied earned P5,000 to P10,000 ($92.34 to $184.67, based on an exchange rate of P54.15 per U.S. dollar) monthly but earners in this bracket rose to 47.61 percent after importation.

Before July 2002, 38.08 percent of respondents earned lower than P50,000 ($923.36). After July 2002, 83.32% earned less than P50,000 ($923.36).

While 61.88 percent of respondents earned more than P50,000 before July 2002, only 2.38 percent earned higher than P50,000 after July 2002.

Batani’s respondents point to vegetable importation as the main reason for the substantial decrease in income. She stressed, “The entry of the Philippines into the globalization bandwagon, specifically in the Agreement on Agriculture in 1995 put the vegetable industry on a very weakened and uncertain position.”

The Department of Agriculture admitted that high-value crops like potatoes and cabbages will have an uncertain future due to competition from imported produce.

Liberalization, according to Batani, started to be felt in 2002 with the sudden drop in prices of vegetables from Benguet and Mt. Province at a time when these were supposed to command better prices.

“This (vegetable importation) is a concrete expression of the negative effects of the country’s entry into the World Trade Organization via the AoA,” Batani stressed.

Similarly, Mila Lingbawan, Apit Tako’s (Alliance of Peasants in the Cordillera Homeland) deputy secretary-general, agreed with Batani that importation has adversely influenced vegetable farmers. However, Lingbawan said that the AoA is also manifested in the high price of agricultural inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, as well as equipment and other farm implements.

Lingbawan said that because of import liberalization, there is no limit to the volume of imported agricultural products entering our shores.

“Dati may tariff duties ang mga imported goods, ngayon, libre na ang mga itong pumasok,” (Before, the government collects tariff duties on all imported goods, now these enter freely) Lingbawan explained.

Apit Tako Chairperson Julian Gayumba, a farmer from Mankayan. Benguet, said that farmers in Barangay (village) Bulalakaw dumped tons of lettuce in the second quarter this year and utilized other farm produce as fertilizers because they could not compete with very low farm gate prices of their produce.

During the strike at Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corporation, Mankayan farmers supported the striking workers by giving free vegetables.

“Maymayat ta nakatulong kadagiti pamilya ti mangmangged ngem ti malungtot no saan ket malugi pay iti linnakuan,” (It is better to help the strikers’ families than for the vegetables to rot or be sold at a losing price in the market) Gayumba said.

Meanwhile, some farmers are trying to revert to organic farming in reaction to the increasing cost of farm inputs. Apit Tako interviewed farmers on organic farming and found that it takes at least three years for farmers to regain soil fertility.

“Dakkel a sakripisyo daytoy,” (This entails a great sacrifice) a farmer said, adding that the yield may be less in the first few years of the implementation. However, he is optimistic that organic farming would be beneficial to both farmers and the environment.

Batani’s research covered three communities, namely Loo and Togtogyong in Buguias town, and Paoay in Atok, all in Benguet .

Participants in the study session on IP women and CEDAW included delegates from Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Thailand, Timor Leste, Vietnam and the Philippines. (Bulatlat.com)

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