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Think sensibly

Like everyone else I want my own land. But like almost everyone else I know I must pay for it. “Almost” refers to the communists, who for some reason believe they should be given land for free. I’m intrigued as to what basis they make that demand. If the land was confiscated from them by a Marcos crony, or through some other illegal means, then, yes, give it back. But be sure it was theirs originally.

And that’s the other thing I object to—the “all” approach to agricultural land distribution. It just makes no sense, whether according to economics or human rights. Some crops just are better grown in mass production—to be able to compete in the world market and be cheap for consumers to buy, apart from being produced in consistently high quality. Rice can be grown on a small plot; sugar can’t.

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A plantation that pays its workers well, looks after their families, and develops the community is a boon to society. Producing consistently high-quality produce at competitive prices is not a curse to be abhorred, as the communists claim. By the way, may I remind the communists that the only country fully enforcing its left-wing philosophy on its citizens is North Korea. Do they want that for Filipinos, too? Abject poverty in debilitating, degrading circumstances? With no freedoms? No, thanks. Communism is a proven failure.

Capitalism has its faults, and they are numerous. But no one has come up with anything better yet. So face reality. Distribute land. But do it sensibly; do it so it can be managed profitably. What point is there to owning a piece of land from which you can’t even feed, clothe and educate your family, let alone buy a TV set or motorcycle?

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Quality of life exceeds ownership of land, as I argued in my column “CARP should remain a fish” (3/19/15). I asked readers: “Would you prefer to grow crops inefficiently with little ability to get a good price for them? Or would you rather have a full-time job with an agricultural business that gives you a decent income regularly for 12 months a year? Given a small house, schooling for the kids, free medical service by a responsible plantation owner, or scrabble for a living?” The average daily income of farmers today is P181, or about a third of the daily minimum wage in Metro Manila. The salary and benefits of a worker on a Marsman-Drysdale farm is P690 per day-four times the amount. And the farmers still own the land; it is just leased to Marsman. Who is better off? You can’t eat dirt.

As I mentioned in my column “Idiocy” a few weeks ago, CARP (or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program) has been a failure. CARP owners are worse off than non-CARP owners. It’s a proven failure in improving the farmer’s lot. It is one of those nice-sounding ideals—and it is nice because indeed, everyone should own land—but it just doesn’t work. As UP School of Economics professor and National Scientist Raul Fabella stressed in his discussion paper, “CARP: Time to Let Go,” CARP and Carper (its extended version) only created a new class of people: the “landed poor.” Poverty incidence in CARP areas is 54 percent, while among non-CARP farmers it’s a significantly lower 35 percent.

I’ll come back to it again and again because it’s the most critical point; you don’t apply any law (in the economic context we’re talking about here) as an absolute totality. You apply sensible exceptions. Agriculture needs the mass production and economic scale of efficiency of plantations as much as manufacturing needs mass production to build motor cars and TV sets. If TV sets were put together one by one in homes, the cost would be astronomical and quality unreliable and poor. The same can be said of some agricultural crops.

Much damage has been done by 29 years of CARP that cannot be readily undone now. But let’s not extend the damage further. There are existing agreements that are working; it makes no sense to break them up. Maybe some tweaking is needed. Throw the baby out with the bath water—you’ll have a clean bath, but no baby. Break up working plantations—you’ll have clean land, but no crop to sell (the inefficiency and lack of capital, expertise, etc. will soon result in lack of buyers for whatever small crops are grown).
E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.

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