By Jeck Tirambulo | Feature Editor
Vol. XCI No. 16
Jan. 24, 202
In the past days, most of us might have seen the photo of a poor old farmer who died while he was working on his corn plants. The heartbreaking image which circulated in multiple media platforms shows just how vulnerable the Filipino farmers are; and just how they are often the unfortunate ones when it comes to having a quality living and overall welfare. A picture of a dead farmer, however, is not new to our country. Countless farmers have encountered a similar fate due to work-related causes such as accidents, heatstroke, and overworking. We all ponder why our farmers are at most times, the neglected and forgotten workers compared to other labor groups. Factors such as topographical disadvantage, insufficient technology, lack of government support, land ownership, and the farmers themselves are often the reasons why most of them are in a perilous situation and why farming is a dying profession in our country.
The Philippines isn’t really an agricultural country, geographically speaking
The biggest irony in our country is that we’re often dubbed as an agricultural one despite our geographical disadvantage. You heard that right. Unlike our neighboring countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, and China, our country is an archipelagic one, hence access to sufficient water supply for irrigation is limited to, if not, none. Luckily for countries like China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar, they have the vast Mekong River to sustain the irrigation needs of their agricultural areas. Whereas in our country, we only have the Cagayan River which makes Luzon as the nation’s rice capital. Here, we can see the importance of having a good irrigation system to meet the water needs of our crops. For example, it takes 2500 liters of water just to produce 1 kilogram of rough rice (unmilled rice).
Since most of our country’s islands are mountainous and only Luzon and Mindanao have ample areas of plain terrains, growing rice and achieving self-sufficiency will be difficult: let alone increase the net income of those rice farmers. Thus, given our country’s dependency on rice as our staple food, we are stuck in an unfortunate situation. These, along with regular visitors such as typhoons, droughts, and earthquakes—make farming disadvantageous in the Philippines.
Our farming techniques are still behind
Countries such as China, Germany, India, Russia, France, Netherlands, and the United States have become highly developed when it comes to agricultural advancement. Hence, they are deemed as top producers of several commodities such as wheat, corn, and rice. Meanwhile, our country remains a mediocre one. Although we have IRRI, a major research agency centered on rice production; the conversion of technologies (research) to terms understandable to a farmer is still difficult. To quote a senator’s words, “Hindi ko maintindihan ang research–research na yan.” Indeed, this is a challenge for the agriculture department. Even if they have agricultural technicians/extension workers to do it, it is still not enough because the number of agricultural technicians (AT) who can do this task is low with a ratio of 1 AT is equivalent to 400-600 households (DA, 2007).
Our farmers are not getting significant support from our government
This has been a persistent problem for our farmers, especially small-scale ones. Other countries that have a strong and productive farm sector have one thing in common: they have provided support—in terms of subsidies and incentives to their farmers. Hence, they were able to feed their citizens while also increasing the net income of the food producers. So to say, their farmers do not share the same connotation with poverty.
The agriculture department has always been given with unsatisfactory budget throughout the years even if farmers are one of the poorest sectors in the country with 34.3 percent poverty incidence in 2015 (PSA). The recently approved 2020 national budget also shows that this sector only has a share of 1.39 percent of the 4.1 trillion pesos budget, or roughly 58 billion pesos (DBM). Although the government is now giving support through credit assistance, training, and other commodity-based programs to farmers, it will take a long period to realize its cause.
Most of our farmers operate in fragmented, small-scale farms and are merely tenants
The hard truth about most of our small-scale farmers is that they don’t own the land they are tilling. A legal definition of a tenant is a person who, himself and with the aid available from within his immediate farm household, cultivates the land belonging to, or possessed by, another, with the latter’s consent for purposes of production, sharing the produce with the landholder under the share tenancy system, or paying to the landholder a price certain or ascertainable in produce or in money or both, under the leasehold tenancy system (LawPhil). A tenancy is oftentimes unfavorable to the farmers because they are usually bound to share the products that they have with the landowners. Other than that, they are also limited in terms of how they should use or utilize the land.
Even if the existing Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) gives landless farmers the right to own the land they till, and encourage just distribution of agricultural lands; there are times when this law slips pass through the greedy oligarchs, thereby depriving the landless farmers/tenants of their rights. In some cases, they lost their lives while fighting for their rights (Hacienda Luisita massacre).
We have some of the most hard-headed farmers
It is not just the geographical disadvantage, bad government policies, and other external circumstances that make our farmers suffer an awful fate. Some factors lie within themselves such as being hard-headed and traditional. While the extension workers (EW) continue to instill a holistic transformation of the farmers for the betterment of their welfare, there are farmers who still stick to the traditional kaingin or the ‘slash and burn’ method of farming. Based on the narratives of some EWs, it’s hard to change the inherited habits of these farmers in a short time. It takes time to change their (farmers) knowledge, attitude, skills, perceptions, and aspirations.
Despite our economy’s source of power is on manufacturing and service, the agricultural sector, albeit being in a disadvantageous state, is still something that needs attention. After all, without the producers, consumers can be gone for better or worse.
For the glory of food, let us thank a farmer every time something fills our palate.
Photo from Economist.com