Agriculture is the key

ariel-nepmucenoIN our country, being a farmer is almost synonymous with being trapped in poverty, with having no formal education, with being deprived of basic needs and, sometimes, with being a victim of injustice. This should not be the case. We are blessed with rich agricultural resources. We have to harness our agricultural strength in creating a vibrant economy that will help ensure that more Filipinos will be freed from their long years of financial and social hardships.

It is almost too late. We have neglected our agricultural sector to the point that our farmers and their families would virtually fall into the liability side of our national balance sheet. The countryside will show us the tillers of the land, the descendants of the farmers whose history will show a litany of broken dreams and unfulfilled hopes. At present, we have about 12 million farmers in the country. According to 2013 statistics, they make up 31 percent of our workers nationwide. The average daily income of rice farmers is P256; for corn farmers, P206. They practically use the same outmoded system of farming that they have inherited from their parents and grandparents. The result is always an income that is too small to sustain their families.

Urban migration

MOST of the informal settlers who contribute to the congestion in our cities are migrants who escaped the poor economic conditions in the countryside. According to a 2010 Asian Development Bank report, there are at least 16 million of them in the whole country, and roughly 35 percent of them are in Metro Manila.

We could hardly blame them for erroneously believing that the metropolis will be generous in providing better opportunities for them and their families, compared with those offered in the provinces from where they came.

Even worse, the children and grandchildren of the migrants who were born here are already oblivious to the life that their parents and grandparents used to have in the provinces. The worldview of these children is that of living in extreme poverty under the bridges or on the sidewalks. They could hardly distinguish between the normal and decent standard of living and the subhuman conditions that they were subjected to. In dumpsites, for example, young girls who carry cartons as improvised mattresses would reportedly perform quick sexual services in any shaded or secluded portion of the stinking hills of garbage for P60 to P100. Afterward, they would buy rugby and inhale it to escape from a distorted reality.

Limited land reform

THE Comprehensive Land Reform Program (CARP) of June 1988 paved the way for the attainment of the noble goal of distributing farmlands to those who worked to feed the nation. However, even though it represented a breakthrough in managing the dilemma of the farmers, the entire program had inherent weakness. The CARP was practically nothing more than a land-distribution scheme. It failed to ensure an efficient and effective production of the lands that were suddenly entrusted to the farmers. Economies of scale, as a corporate advantage, were overlooked. The small farm lots that were handed to them were managed separately, in spite of the heroic efforts of countless agricultural cooperatives to bind them and achieve superiority in numbers. The operational efficiency of a bigger operation was hardly achieved. Each landowner must individually pursue the best market for his or her produce, worry about access to dependable irrigation, secure cheaper credit facilities, or even adopt the best practices that could only fit huge agricultural companies. As an industry, our agricultural sector became dismally uncompetitive in the global arena.

Modernize and organize

THE government must do everything it can to modernize our agricultural sector. The annual billion-peso funds intended for this purpose must be fully utilized to ensure that our farmers would be able to efficiently prepare their farm lands. Farm-to-market access must be a basic support to the industry. Modern farm equipment, like tractors and dryers, and irrigation systems should be treated as basic government obligations. The strategic role of the National Food Authority, under its new administrator Renan Dalisay, protégé of former senator and food-security czar Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, has to be renewed. As former student-activists and leaders in the 1980s, the two men could provide the means to improve the lives of our farmers.

Emergency- and calamity-support mechanisms must be institutionalized to protect farmers from natural disasters like Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan) and Typhoon Ruby (international code name Hagupit). More important, an organized corporate approach to production, logistics management, finance and marketing must be instilled in the fragmented micro organizations of our agricultural workers.

An important pillar of our country’s economic growth is a successful agricultural industry. Without it, we will continue to be burdened by such issues as food shortages; the high prices of agricultural products, especially rice; urban overpopulation; and social unrest in the provinces. Along with our growing manufacturing sector and the overseas Filipino workers who regularly remit billions of dollars to the country, a modern agricultural sector can ensure our nation’s rise as one of Southeast Asia’s most successful economies.

E-mail: anepo.businessmirror@


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