Worsening poverty of farmers
In the meantime, Arnado said that because of the twisted policies of the NFA and the national government on rice importation and the lack of genuine agrarian reform, the poverty of Filipino farmers continues to worsen.
“In the regions, farmers continue to be exploited by greedy landlords who demand high land rent. Usurers charge usurious interest payments on the prices of fertilizers and other farm inputs farmers use. Beneficiaries of the agrarian reform law cannot afford the high amortization rates and the highly commercialized rates of farm inputs sold by transnational agro-chemical industries, whose products have also destroyed local rice varieties,” he said Arnado.
Arnado gave a for-instance on the poverty of farmers.
“A corn farmer in North Cotobato tilling a two-hectare farm in a period of four months, would get a gross income of P120,000 (US$2,790). This amount is still not enough to cover the costs of land preparation, planting, harvesting, and post – harvest hauling, shelling, drying, sacking and deliveries. Usually a farmer is not left with much after paying rent (usually 50 – 70% share goes to landlord) and paying loans.Farmers plant food, but he can barely feed his own family because he has no money to buy food,” Arnado said.
Bantay Bigas has already launched “Brigada Kaldero”, a series of protest actions against continued increases in the prices of rice and other food items, as well as oil products.
“The Aquino Administration has not acted decisively on the price increases of oil products which translated to increases in food prices including rice. What is needed is policy reversal of the oil deregulation law and dismantling of the monopolies which oil deregulation only strengthened. Aquino has only implemented piece-meal populist solutions such as gas subsidies, rice subsidies for farmers and fisher folk in an effort to boost the president’s waning popularity”, said Mariano.
According to Bantay Bigas research, the cost of crude oil consumption of farmers increased 28-29 percent, translating to the increased cost of palay production by seven to 10 percent, bringing down farmers’ incomes by 9.65-17.66 percent. It said that the rice subsidy program of the Aquino government through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to help poor farmers and fisher folk hit by the price increases did not benefit farmers.
“It’s actually insulting — imagine having to give rice subsidies to the country’s rice producers! But because of the government’s non-existence support for farmers, the country’s food growers can barely buy food.”
“Farmers don’t need dole-outs. What we demand is for government to implement the NFA’s mandate to ensure the country’s food security by procuring at least 10 percent of the country’s palay production, and make rice affordable to the majority of the Filipino population”, said Mariano.
Mariano said that the Department of Agriculture (DA) boasts of a good harvest, but the Aquino government has not provided for palay procurement to ensure farmers get a good price for their produce and to make rice affordable to the poor.
” If there is good harvest and ample supply of rice, why is the lowest price of rice in the market pinned to P28.00 per kilo?”, said Mariano.
Bantay Bigas is demanding the return of P18.25 (US$0.42) NFA rice in the market and for government to implement its policy of food security embodied in the NFA’s mandate. To implement the 10 percent mandate of the NFA in rice procurement, the government would need about P30.4 billion (US706.976 million) annually.
“If only the NFA remains true to its mandate, it will be able to help around 4.9 million to 6.1 million farmers and their families for at least one crop season and tide them over to the next harvest season,” she said.
The peasant leader said that Instead of the short term dole out programs of the gas subsidies, rice subsidies including the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program of the DSWD, the Aquino government should reverse its privatization, liberalization and deregulation policies.
“It can begin by doing away with the deregulation of the oil industry. It can put together a more reliable food security program by strengthening the NFA and putting an end to the corruption in the agency,” she said.
Bantay Bigas is also pushing for the passage of the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) and the Rice Industry Development Act (RIDA) which it sees as providing long term solutions to the country’s rice problem and food insecurity
Stop privatization, stop corruption
Finally, NFA union president Sanchez called on President Aquino to make true his commitment in his first state of the nation address to solve corruption in the NFA by going after the “big fish.”
“Almost a year has passed but no ‘big fish’ has been caught much less held accountable for the anomalies in the NFA. What makes this much worse is how President Benigno Aquino III is singling out the entire agency as responsible for the anomalies hence the big excuse to privatize the agency,” said Sanchez.
Mariano also criticized the Aquino administration for continuing the privatization thrust of the agency. “Strengthening the private sector’s role in the Philippines’ rice trade and importation, including the country’s food security stocks, has only worsened the crisis in the country’s rice sector. President Aquino is only continuing Macapagal-Arroyo’s privatization policy which is to blame for the corruption in the agency.”