Cordillera Peasants, Women Hold ‘Foodless Day’; Earth’s 854 Million People Go Hungry Everyday

Representatives from Innabuyog-GABRIELA, an alliance of indigenous women, and the Alyansa dagiti Pesante iti Taeng Kordilyera (Apit-Tako or Peasant Alliance in the Cordillera Homeland), have come together to address the World Rural Women’s Day and the World Food Day. The economic crisis in the country, especially in the rural areas, is worsening, they say.

BY PINK-JEAN FANGON MELEGRITO
Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat.com

BAGUIO CITY – The world observes two important occasions every October. One is Rural Women’s Day, for farmers and food producers who comprise more than a quarter of the world’s population. The other is World Food Day, aimed for the public awareness on hunger, malnutrition and poverty. These dates are considered by some to be occasions for celebration, but local peasant and women’s groups here believe otherwise saying there is nothing to rejoice about.

Representatives from Innabuyog-GABRIELA, an alliance of indigenous women, and the Alyansa dagiti Pesante iti Taeng Kordilyera (Apit-Tako or Peasant Alliance in the Cordillera Homeland), have come together to address the World Rural Women’s Day and the World Food Day. The economic crisis in the country, especially in the rural areas, is worsening, they say.

The Rural Women’s Day is celebrated every Oct. 15 and on the next day comes World Food Day. Based on a joint statement by Innabuyog-GABRIELA and Apit-Tako, in the 11 years of celebrating rural women and the 27 years of supposedly addressing food problems, there seems to be no sufficient change in the economic system, president after president.

“Experts on the world food situation say that there are 854 million hungry people on our planet or that one of six people is hungry. Around 500 million of hungry people are in Asia. In the Philippines, one of five Filipinos is hungry; while more than half rank themselves poor (SWS 2005). More than half of these figures are women,” the statement read.

The higher stakes of rice

Rice production in the Cordillera is 108 percent sufficient, according to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics in 2004, Apit-Tako’s vice chair Andres Wailan said, citing 2004 data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS).

“This rice sufficiency could have fed 1.6 million of the Cordillerans; however, the rice today has become commercialized, especially here in the Cordillera,” Wailan said.

Norma Mooy, also of Apit-Tako, said that most Cordillera farmers have incurred debts because of higher costs of rice production. Farmers are forced to be dependent on chemical inputs such as pesticides and other synthetic fertilizers for the seeds to grow, she said.

“As the government introduced the hybrid seeds (F1 varieties) that we (local farmers) call as suicide seeds through the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) rice program, it claims that these seeds are the only genetic tool for increasing yield over the ‘ordinary seeds.’ We may harvest 3-4 times a year, but the seeds need high maintenance whereas they could not be re-used as binhi for the next cropping season; therefore more expenses for us farmers,” Wailan explained.

Wailan also said that the Arroyo government’s rice program boasts that the F1 seeds have an average yield per hectare of 6.5-7.5 metric tons as opposed to the ordinary seeds that yield only 3-4 metric tons per hectare. Moreover, the government is also planning to propagate the use of genetically-modified rice here in the country. These varieties are Vitamin A or the Golden Rice, and the Bacterial Blight or BB Rice.

Another worry the farmers have, according to Wailan, is the existence of the Revitalized Indigenous Cordillera Entrepreneur (RICE) project of exporting the organic traditional rice varieties unoy and tinawon. RICE has already initially exported unoy last year, and a second shipment of seven tons to the U.S. at P50/kg is due this year. Ifugao would be exporting its first shipment of tinawon to the U.S. this year.

The Filipinos are to consume the “chemical” rice because the “healthy” ones are exported, Wailan said. “Another thing, in spite of the rice ‘oversufficiency’ of Cordillera, rice importation is resorted to even in Kalinga, the region’s rice granary. As the National Food Authority (NFA) revealed, of the 402,000 cavans, 200,000 cavans has already been distributed,” he added.

The Innabuyog-GABRIELA and Apit-Tako joint statement also said that the rice importation is expected to increase with the full implementation of the Agreement of Agriculture (AoA) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) this year.

However, the price of rice increases despite the influx of cheap imported rice. The prices in 1994 were: NFA (National Food Authority) rice-P8.44/kg; ordinary rice-P8.86/kg; special rice-P9.50/kg. Ten years later, the prices were: NFA-P16.00/kg; ordinary-P17-18/kg; special-P20-28/kg.

Meanwhile, Wailan shared that they have been encouraging local farmers to go back using the traditional rice varieties through seed exchange among barrios to propagate new seeds and practice organic farming that would lengthen the health of their farmlands; thus, provide them with more healthy crops. So far, the exchange has been in the provinces of Ifugao, Kalinga and Mountain Province.

Decrying being foodless and poorer

Mila Lingbawan of the Innabuyog-GABRIELA said that there is definitely nothing to celebrate on these two occasions. “We are currently experiencing severe hunger and poverty as opposed to what the government says that the economy is getting better. There is no proper subsidy for the most important part of the country’s economy that is agriculture, which is participated in by 80 percent of Filipinos who are peasants,” Lingbawan stressed.

Lingbawan also said that besides the economic problems of peasants, they are faced with political killings, 54 percent of whom are farmers that affect the whole farming community and the wives and children left to themselves.

Innabuyog-GABRIELA spokesperson Vernie Yocogan-Diano emphasized that “people must voice out their anger against national and international policies that instead of finding ways to suffice food, do otherwise.”

Both groups called on all farmers and advocates to oppose agricultural trade liberalization, push for increased agricultural subsidies, and urge the Philippine government to recall its WTO membership. (Northern Dispatch / Posted by Bulatlat.com)

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