Asia’s ‘farming crisis’ complicated–experts

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File photo: A farmer in Buenavista in Santiago City, Isabela, checks his rice crops soon ready for harvest.

ASIAN countries face a farming crisis and no amount of income support will be enough to address the problems and risks faced by farmers, according to agriculture experts.

In the Rural Development and Food Security Forum on Monday, Mekhala Krishnamurthy of the India-based Ashoka University said farmers face interlinked risks that have scale, frequency, complexity and are context-specific.

Krishnamurthy said this is mainly due to land ownership and access insecurity; their being tenants and sharecroppers which prevents them from accessing inputs and credit; land fragmentation due to intergeneration transfers and urbanization, among others.

“What makes agriculture so complicated is the ways in which these risks are interlinked and interconnected with the whole range of other risks,”
Krishnamurthy said.

Dar’s take

Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the Philippines is not spared from the so-called farming crisis, mainly due to the fragmentation of farm lands.

Dar said the nearly 40-year old agrarian reform program has divided farmlands in the Philippines “into miniscule sizes” of less than 1.7 hectares.

Other reasons for the decline in farmlands, Dar said, are population growth and the rapid rate of urbanization. The country’s population rate at 1.8 percent annually is one of the highest in the region, Dar noted.

Meanwhile, the farm “fragmentation results in the dominance of smallholder farmers who are fast aging because of the uninviting appeal of farming on the youth. It also limits the application of modern farm technologies and tools leading to low farm productivity,”  Dar said.

“This comes at a time when population, notably in urban areas, is growing and the demand for healthy and safe food is on the rise. The Philippines is not spared from this so-called farming crisis,” he added.

This has become evident, Dar said, in the implementation of the rice trade liberalization (RTL) law. Under the law, anyone can import rice and this has depressed rice prices, making local rice farmers uncompetitive.

This is a farming crisis, Dar said, which actually constitutes “birth  pains” of the implementation of the RTL. Removing the quantitative restriction on rice, Dar said however, is part of the country’s commitments when it acceded to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1994.

This new law has also shed light on the rice bias of the government and, Dar said, how a rice-centric view on agriculture has become disadvantageous to other crops.

“This [declining productivity due to RTL] proves that rice farms can no longer compete with the imported rice,” Dar said. “Through the years, attaining rice self-sufficiency has been consistently set as the cornerstone of our agricultural policy. However, this proved to be unfavorable as the other agricultural crops have been deprived of the much-needed
support.”

In order to address interlinked challenges in agriculture, Krishnamurthy said experts must go back to the lessons of the green revolution that swept across Asia decades ago. She said the problem with this program was that it was a “huge public investment.”

Krishnamurthy said it is important to consider a new framework where the public sector is still able to help farmers while ensuring that these programs are financially prudent ones.

She said one of the more prominent programs is farm income support but this, Krishnamurthy said, is not a complete solution. Farmers face risks both on and off the farm, thus limiting the assistance to only farm income support, which still prevents them from earning a decent living.

For one, she said, farmers are not only producers but consumers not only of their own produce but also of other items such as farm inputs. They also try to earn through other means to augment their farm incomes.

Image credits: CESAR M. PERANTE



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