Challenges to UN’s family farming decade | Inquirer Opinion

Challenges to UN’s family farming decade

04:03 AM January 20, 2020

In December 2017, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2019-2028 as the “Decade of Family Farming.” The UN Food and Agricultural Organization and the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development have invited governments, civil society, the private sector and the academe to participate in a series of relevant activities that give due recognition to the important role played by family farms in the global system. Family farmers include peasants, indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, upland farmers and pastoralists. The estimated 500 million family farms (90 percent of the total) throughout the earth produce 80 percent of the world’s food. The UN has acknowledged the contribution of family farms to sustainable rural and urban life, food security, environmental preservation, biodiversity and the maintenance of a rural cultural heritage.

In many countries, however, family farmers are often the most deprived and disadvantaged. They also face countless threats, the most recent being government policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization. Under these policies, government allows the private sector to take the lead in the production and distribution of basic goods and the provision of essential public services such as education, health, housing, water and power. In such instances, private profit precedes public interest.

In Philippine agriculture, liberalization is mirrored in the controversial rice tariffication law that is squeezing the lifeblood of rice farmers and threatening the very existence of farming society. The law should be repealed, and the liberalization process reversed.

The agrarian reform program contains some progressive provisions, but it also bred a host of problems due to its many loopholes and its completion long in coming. Many farmer-beneficiaries have already lost control of their awarded lands as these have been mortgaged to local speculators or filched by giant property developers and other land grabbers.


The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997 (Ipra) granted tribal peoples the right to legal title to their ancestral lands through certificates of ancestral domain titles (CADT). But the process of issuing CADTs has been overly long and tortuous. Twenty-seven years after Ipra was signed, many indigenous communities have yet to gain land titles. In the meantime, their land rights are being repeatedly transgressed by corporate incursions and large-scale infrastructure projects.

CADT holders, however, face a new peril in the form of joint management agreements imposed on IPs by special economic zones (SEZs). These result in corporate-friendly SEZs taking over management and control over titled ancestral lands—the opposite of what Ipra had intended.

Among fisherfolk, the long-running challenge has been the dominance by big fishing corporations and their forays into areas reserved for small-scale fishers. But a new menace facing fisherfolk are the 102 reclamation projects along coastal areas in the country covering 38,272 hectares. Aside from the loss of livelihood and homes by fisher families, reclamation projects are also the most environmentally destructive of all projects and cannot be corrected or reverted.

Of grave concern are the violations of human rights of small farmers, fisherfolk, and indigenous peoples through the red-tagging of their organization, endangering the lives of their leaders and members. Harassment, arrests and killings have taken place.


There is no doubt that these deplorable conditions are replicated in many countries in the world. As the UN commences the Decade of Family Farming to celebrate the rural grassroots, it should also confront the social, economic and political forces that make family farmers the poorest and most marginalized sectors of modern society.

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Eduardo C. Tadem, Ph.D. is convener of the Program on Alternative Development of the UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies. This article is a revised version of a presentation at the Conference on Knowledge Learning Market and Policy Engagement last November at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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TAGS: Commentary, Eduardo C. Tadem, Food and Agricultural Organization

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