SAVE THE FARMERS

By Roger Bantiles

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte could not have chosen a better man when he appointed Sec. Manny Pinol to the agriculture portfolio and tasked him to save the country’s farmers from the quagmire of poverty that had plagued them since time immemorial.

But Agriculture Secretary Pinol needs every support he could get to succeed in his mission to make the lives of famers better and make the agriculture sector one of most effective engines of our economy.

Lest Pinol forgets, farm workers along with our fishermen are among the most neglected sectors in our society yet the country needs their produce to keep our population from starvation.

In short, our country’s very existence depends on our farmers and fishermen, thus it is imperative that the government in return must take good care of them and ensure that adequate support and help are accorded to them.

Unfortunately, the past administrations failed to take a serious hard look on their plight prompting some farmers to liken their situation to Lazarus who needed a miracle to get back to life.

“Agriculture is practically dead in the country,” they said, adding that the industry’s ‘demise’ was hastened by the lack of support by the past governments.

MIRACLE NEEDED

The agriculture sector needs a miracle and farmers hope that Pinol will deliver. “It looks like Pinol knows the problem and is starting at the right foot,” they said.

Farmers said they have to be competitive in pricing their produce, but this requires massive government support.

Agriculture in other countries is highly subsidized. Farmers in China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam get government support including free use of irrigation facilities.

As a result, farmers in those countries are able to live comfortably and ensure food sufficiency by making their farms more productive than their Filipino counterparts.

HIGH PRODUCTION COSTS

In stark contrast, Filipino rice farmers pay P2,536 per hectare, per cropping season as irrigation fees while farmers in other Asian countries get them free.

Beyond free irrigation fees, government support to farming in our neighbor countries include free seeds, seedlings, farm equipment use, cost of money in capitalization, land use, research, development, training, education and agricultural extension.

They also spend a lot on transportation, storage and processing, marketing information and support, terminal markets, organizing of cooperatives and even mobilizing embassies, consulates, trade and commercial attaches to help find foreign markets.

FARMERS’ DREAM FOR SUBSIDIES

At present, subsidies to these production costs are just dreams for our local farmers.

Absent these subsidies, our farmers are reduced to poverty, many of them harvesting for their own consumption.

Worse, even harvest for their own consumption won’t guarantee that it would see through for them till the next harvest season.

Survival of our farmers is a product of creativity. Farmers must produce crops as much as possible without having to pay cash.

Harvest sharing among those participants in the process of producing crops is most common practice.

INTEGRATION

From land preparation to acquisition of seeds weeding, to fertilizers, pesticides, threshing to hauling are all settled on harvest, with parties taking their agreed share.

This scheme is integration in farming parlance. Survival has forced farmers to become good integrators. And they have mastered this art.

While integration or a system of harvest sharing and credits has allowed farmers to plant and harvest, it has also buried them in debt, many unable to unburden until their farms are taken by creditors.

RICE SUFFICIENCY

Activists for the protection of farmers’ interests, though, claim Philippines rice farms can produce better than other countries in Asia.

Farmers claim they can be competitive and surely achieve food self sufficiency for the country.

In 2013, the country reached 96 percent self sufficiency level in rice. In that year, “the Philippines had its highest rice production in history at 18.44 metric tons,” said a report of the Department of Agriculture.

After that record harvest, things turned around to bad, given extreme weather conditions like floods and El Nino heat wave affecting most of the rural areas.

The deterioration of economic conditions was worse in the rural areas, this sector making up 27.9 percent of the country’s poor.

DIGONG'S PROMISES

President Duterte has promised to relieve farmers from paying irrigation fees. “This is a step in the right direction,” said some farmers after hearing the President instructing the DA to give free irrigation services to farmers.

They said that the President’s direction gives them hope that the national government is starting to notice their needs.

“But the challenge to make us active participants in the economic development of the country needs more than free irrigation,” they added.

The challenge is how to economically empower farmers that their disposable income increases and enable them to become buyers of goods that factories produce.

BAD POLICIES

However, some of the current policies of the government discourage farming and in making our farms productive, depriving millions of Filipinos the ability to participate in the cycle of production and consumption of goods and commerce.

As it is, government policies favor importation even of food, from rice to garlic.

These policies come amid absence of subsidies to farm production, to lack of infrastructure (roads and storage facilities), and lip service to credit and marketing assistance.

Credit extension to farmers is a promise honored in breach. Farmers are forced to sell their produce even when price of their goods are at bottom low. Price of farm produce is subject to laws of supply and demand.

FARMERS’ PROBLEMS

Farmers do not have that resource to wait for that period when supply is low and demand is high to make better margins. This situation is being exploited by traders who manipulate and dictate the prices of palay and rice.

A scheme like bridge financing, funded by the government would solve this. Until now the government has not step in and provide this scheme.

Poverty in the countryside baffles economists, wondering how the Philippines can achieve economic growth and move to advanced economy status without having to correct the inequities in the rural areas.

All advanced countries, now industrialized have very strong rural and farm economies.

HOPEFUL

This happens for two reasons, first for food self sufficiency that addresses national security and second for vibrant movement of goods produced by factories and industries.

Farmers groups, however, are hopeful that President Duterte will address the issue of corruption in government, saying that these anti-farm policies of the government is more of a product of a corrupt government intent in protecting traders, usurers.

The absence of credit facilities to farmers favors the business of traders and usurers who tie down the ability of farmers to decide when and how to price and move their produce.

It is imperative that farmers are in a position for better control in the movement of the produce to allow them better margins and create higher disposable income.

SLEEPING GIANT

The farmer sector is a sleeping giant as final consumers of goods and services. Give this sector the economic muscle and surely the national economy will fly.

But first put in place the system that favors their economic emancipation, unchained from decades of government deliberate support to merciless traders and usurers.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE

First the government should discourage importation, and not be tied down to global free trade.

The government should impose tariffs on goods that can be, and are produced locally.

Free trade is killing our farmers as foreign products come cheaper because they are highly subsidized in their country of origin.

Construction of roads and post harvest facilities should be seriously pursued.

Subsidized cost if not free seeds, seedlings, fertilizers, pesticides and other farm inputs, access to loans for working capital, support in the marketing of farm products in both local and foreign trades, also free access to research and training, education and other support facilities.

If and when the government takes serious steps in achieving the foregoing, the government will be creating a market for manufacturing and industrialization.

President Digong was elected with the biggest margin ever, because he personified hope that poverty issues will gets their correct attention.

OpinYon is certain, as before, in 2014, Pres. Digong will not disappoint the 16 million who voted for him and the more than 100 million Filipinos.

(ED’s Note: OpinYon in 2014 was the first media organization to seriously launch Digong’s campaign for President in Manila with Atty. Sal S. Panelo, OpinYon’s Ombudsman, and now the President’s Chief Legal Counsel.

OpinYon then as now believes Pres. Digong will deliver on his promise to uplift the lives of the marginalized sectors of our society.

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Sunday, 08 December 2019
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