Aid, support out of reach for Malolos farmers

Marcelino Cruz Lucas at the field. (Photo by Ashleyah Dela Cruz/Bulatlat) 


MALOLOS, Bulacan – “Hindi na magsasaka, magsasako na lang.”

This is how Marcelino Cruz Lucas, 65, described his situation as a rice farmer of over fifty years in Malolos, Bulacan, a province north of Manila. Over the years, he has witnessed the decline in their yields. But just last month, they suffered yet another setback when Typhoon Egay (international name: Doksuri) practically wiped out his newly planted rice seeds.

Lucas is among the residents of Barihan village who earn a living by tilling the land. The land here, they described, is suitable for planting rice. However, the rise of urban and housing development projects in the area poses a threat due to land use conversion.

The impact of the typhoon was severe, prompting the province of Bulacan to declare a state of calamity due to heavy flooding. The provincial government estimated that the agricultural sector suffered damages amounting to about P93 million ($1.64 million).

While there is a budget increase for the agricultural sector (P173.6 billion in 2023 compared to P132.2 billion in 2022), it remains far behind the allotted funds for defense (P282.7 billion or $5 billion), state forces (P430.1 billion or $7.5 billion), and infrastructure (P822.2 billion or $14.5 billion).

The department was also recently criticized over the apparent inefficient use of its limited budget, following the report of the Commission on Audit, where the agency failed to distribute over 855,493 bags of rice seeds under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF); 2,088 pieces of farm machinery; 942 hand tractors; 599 floating tillers; 329 reapers; and 215 recirculating dryers, to name a few.

Read: Farmers decry low agri budget in 2024

“If you dwell on problems too much, you will look older than your actual age,” Lucas told Bulatlat.

Delayed assistance

As soon as the skies cleared, Lucas said he filed for crop insurance and received ?4,000 ($70) for the destroyed rice lands. He also later on received seedlings and two sacks of fertilizers for the land he is tilling.

(Photo by Ashleyah Dela Cruz/Bulatlat)

Still, he said that he needed to shell out more money to replace the destroyed crops, amounting to P1,500 ($26) for every 40 kilograms of seedlings alone. Overall, he would spend some ?30,000 ($530) for his one-hectare land during the planting season.

“If you rely solely on the government this rainy season, the seedlings you are expecting to receive might not be distributed within the planting season,” he said.

Also among the expenses they need to spend on until their harvest include renting machinery such as hand tractors and water pumps. Most of the time, they are able to cover these expenses through loans.

“During harvest season, our yields are just enough to pay our debts,” Lucas explained in Filipino.

This he meant in its most literal sense as they pay off every P500 ($8) worth of debt with one cavan of palay.

Lucas and his fellow farmers have left yearning for even a slight improvement in their yields, which would at least make a difference in their circumstances.

Land ownership remains a problem

For Lucas, the land ownership problem is also aggravating the already dire situation of Malolos farmers.

Lucas recounted that in the past, a land transfer distributed the land among tenants and landowners. However, this distribution did not provide equal benefits to all farmers.

Currently, Lucas manages his own plot of land spanning 6,200 square meters and the rented half-hectare of land. Furthermore, he works as a farm laborer on a larger 4.5-hectare farm, which earns him a mere 1/10 profit on a percentage basis.

While Malolos farmers do receive government assistance, they must first provide a photocopy of their land title to qualify for this assistance. Unfortunately, many farmers can’t fulfill this because their landowners refuse to give them a copy of the title.

“Not everyone in the 106 farmers of Barihan received aid as some are agricultural workers. The government’s priority is to provide aid to land owners so they were the ones who received aid,” said Lucas.

This puts agricultural workers in a more difficult situation as their income will only depend on their share on the actual yields.

They also face the continuing impacts of climate change, including extreme weather conditions. During the dry season, Lucas added, their problems are exacerbated with the lack of a proper irrigation system as theirs were clogged due to the construction of a nearby subdivision.

Lucas said, “the government must really pay attention to agriculture. Else, only landowners and proprietors, not farmers and farm workers, will benefit. We, farm workers, are working towards having better conditions, including fair share to yields. (JJE, RVO) (

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