Duterte’s #First100Days | President urged to revisit agricultural policies of past administration

Farmers, who produce food, could barely put enough food on the table.


MANILA – It has been six months since the bloody dispersal of farmers in Kidapawan took place. The incident brought to the fore the hunger experienced by thousands of drought-stricken farmers in Northern Mindanao.

For Gerry Alborme, spokesperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)-North Cotabato, the pain remains. Two were killed and hundreds were wounded as state security forces opened fire at the farmers’ barricade demanding rice subsidy from government.

Alborme said the provincial government’s P238-million calamity fund should have been enough to provide 15,000 sacks of rice, farm inputs and other forms of assistance. “We asked for rice but were given bullets instead,” Alborme said in a forum organized by various organizations, Oct. 5.

But even without drought or any other calamity, studies show that Filipino farmers who produce food experience hunger the most.

Eighty percent of families relying on agriculture are food insecure, according to the 2013 survey of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI). Seventy-five percent of the rural households are also food insecure, the same FNRI study revealed.

The same FNRI survey showed that seven out of ten Filipino families are food insecure.

Alborme’s region, Northern Mindanao, is the fourth most food insecure region. The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) ranked first as the most food insecure; Eastern Visayas is second and Zamboanga Peninsula is third.

Farmers, who produce food, could barely put enough food on the table.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the food threshold for a family of five or the minimum income required to meet basic food needs and satisfy the nutritional requirements is P6,365 per month. This means that each family member only needs P42 per day for food.

Speaking in the forum, Maria Aranita Ramirez of FNRI admitted the food threshold “is no longer realistic” and needs to be updated.

Citing statistics from government, Xandra Bisenio of Ibon Foundation said farmers and agricultural workers received the lowest wages, ranging from P165 to P191 per day in 2012.

Poverty incidence is highest among farmers and fisherfolk, pegged at 39 percent and 38 percent respectively.

Bisenio added that of the 4.2 million unpaid family workers in 2014, sixty-seven percent are found in agriculture.

Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao attributed the hunger and poverty of Filipino farmers to land monopoly and ‘anti-people’ policies.

Casilao, a long-time union organizer of agricultural workers in Mindanao before becoming a party-list representative, said the bogus land reform program has allowed landlords to regain control of the land.

Data from the Land Bank of the Philippines show that 76 percent of farmer-beneficiaries could not pay amortization. Only ten percent are fully paid while the remaining 14 percent are still paying.

Casilao also blamed the World Trade Organization-Agreement on Agriculture (WTO-AoA) and its similar trade pacts such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) for the bankruptcy of Filipino farmers.

According to Ibon Foundation, the food import dependency of the Philippines increased in a span of 18 years, from pre-WTO in 1994 to 2010. Data culled by Ibon from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics showed that in 2010, imported rice accounted for 19 percent of the rice supply.

Agricultural trade deficit was pegged at $3.3 billion in 2010 and food trade deficit has reached $3.6 billion in 2010, according to the independent think tank.

Is change coming?

Casilao said there is a need to revisit the policies of the previous administration to be able to mitigate hunger.

For one, Casilao said it seems that the new administration is not veering away from the trade liberalization in agriculture.

Casilao also pointed out that the budget for the Department of Agriculture (DA) is not enough to provide support to food producers.

The Anakpawis legislator however praised Duterte for approving the ban on land use conversion pushed by Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano.

Bisenio noted the brewing conflict in the Duterte cabinet. She lamented that National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) chief Ernesto M. Pernia has opposed the ban on land-use conversion.

Mariano’s representative to the forum, lawyer Jujun Malisi, said DAR is doing all it can to support the farmers.

“We cannot achieve food security if our farmers remain hungry,” Malisi said.

Malisi said a new agrarian reform law is needed to uplift the economic conditions of farmers and agricultural workers.

Mariano, during his stint as Anakpawis representative, filed the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB). It was not passed by the landlord-dominated House of Representatives.

Casilao has filed a similar bill.

Shen Maglinte of SIBAT, a NGO engaged in the promotion and development of appropriate agricultural technology, said the government should harness sustainable utilization of food bases/resources to secure first food needs of the country.

Maglinte added that farmers, fisherfolk and other food producers should be involved in the planning and implementation of policies on food security. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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