When farmers are the ones hungry
Last Oct. 16 was the commemoration of World Food Day. This year’s theme hoped to jump-start the UN Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger in 15 years.
Yet, to many, especially the small farmers in several countries like the Philippines, this theme is no different from the false hopes and failed promises of the Green Revolution of
the ’70s, the liberalization of agricultural trade in the ’80s, the regime of the World Trade Organization in the ’90s, and the Millennium Development Goals of the 2000s. They all
had the theme of addressing hunger and they had failed small farmers.
Small farmers are still mired in landlessness. They farm food in lands that are not theirs. They are barely earning from back-breaking production. They have to bear with costs steeper than ever and harvest that cannot compete with liberalized agricultural trading, leaving them indebted and impoverished.
The bloody dispersal of Kidawapan farmers who clamored for government support for the intense hunger they experienced when the El Niño phenomenon struck the Mindanao region
last year is a glaring reminder of the ironic situation that the country’s own food producers are the ones without food.
The Philippines’ entry to the World Trade Organization Agreement on Agriculture has hurt our food production system and made us a food-insecure country as our staple commodity such as rice is dependent on importation. Filipino farmers have suffered from globalization policies promoted by the multilateral agriculture trade agreements and the absence of state subsidies.
Filipino farmers are bearing the expensive cost of rice production at P12.41/kg compared with neighboring countries, Thailand (P8.85/kg) and Vietnam (P6.53/kg). Such disparities are attributed to the $236-per-ton subsidy given to Vietnamese farmers through the Vietnam Food Association, and the $450-per-ton support that Thai farmers get. Filipino farmers, meanwhile, have to subsist on a $180-per-ton government support.
On the other hand, the country’s agriculturally productive lands are being exploited by agroplantations for biofuels (sugarcane, corn, palm oil) and other high-valued crops (banana, pineapple). The Network Resisting Expansion of Agricultural Plantations in Mindanao noted that vast tracts of productive lands are being occupied by rubber, banana and pineapple plantations in the region.
Agrotransnational corporations such as Del Monte, Sumifru and Dole’s plantations are the leading agribusiness ventures that control land use in Mindanao. It is estimated that about one million hectares in Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato, Caraga and the Northern Mindanao region will be covered in palm oil. This has threatened the rice-producing provinces in Mindanao, Lanao del Norte, Bukidnon, North Cotabato.
Food security and self-sufficiency can only be attained if the Philippines will end its subservience to the dictates of international financial institutions, and the agrocorporations of the rich countries. Only the path of distributing land to the tillers and ensuring genuine agrarian support through state subsidies to small farmers will provide a lasting solution to achieve zero hunger.
MARIA FINESA COSICO, secretary general, Advocates of Science and Technology for the People,
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