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A country for farmers

04:02 AM February 25, 2020

When children are asked what they want to be when they grow up, their usual answers are to be a doctor, architect, lawyer, soldier, nurse, engineer, teacher, or accountant. Something prestigious and respectable—the more difficult to achieve, the better.

When a kid declares he wants to be president of the Philippines, that is saying something. But I have never heard a kid proclaiming he wants to be a farmer, and that is saying something, too.

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Truth is, we don’t want our children to become farmers. We caution kids that if they don’t study hard and finish schooling, they will end up like farmers. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a farmer. It is just that we know what the life of a farmer, particularly one who tills someone else’s land, is like.

I was one of those children who didn’t dream of being a farmer, although my father was a farmer. Had my father lived longer, I would have thoroughly seen what a farmer’s life is like.

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Yet we don’t need to have a farmer-father to know the life of a typical farmer. If you’re living in the Philippines, you know how hard it is to be a farmer.

The Philippines used to be the training ground for agriculture for our Southeast Asian neighbors. It made me proud to hear that, but it makes me sorry to see what we have become today. With the passage of the rice tariffication law (RTL), I don’t know what would become of our farmers.

I am no expert in the economy but what matters to our farmers is, not the RTL, but food on the table. How ironic it is that farmers, who till the land to provide food for the rest of the country, are the ones who end up hungry.

Filipinos love instant noodles, instant coffee, instant coconut milk. We want to achieve the end goal fast. The rice tarriffication law is the Philippines’ version of an instant fix to lower rice prices, an easy way to address the food crisis. But it is like admitting there is nothing to be done to improve our farmers’ productivity and lower rice prices unless we resort to importing cheaper rice.

Liberalize farmers, not consumers. The RTL does not really help farmers because it merely serves as a Band-Aid solution. It may help farmers by providing them funds collected from customs duties, but unless the government establishes sustainable programs through infrastructure support like building dams, irrigation systems, water pumping stations, and farm-to-market roads—and not just provides cash transfers and farm inputs—our farmers will still be left to fend for themselves.

The only good thing I see about the law is that it exposes how crude our rice farming system is and how farmers are in dire need for drastic measures.

It is a challenge that the government has yet to take up.

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As a farmer’s son, I pray that those who are fighting for our farmers’ welfare do not waver in their struggle. I pray that we elect lawmakers and leaders who will truly serve and uplift the weakest in our society—our farmers and other marginalized sectors.

When I was a child, I didn’t dream of being a farmer. Today, I dream of liberating our farmers.

Joberson Benito, 26, is a graduate of organizational communication from the University of the Philippines Manila. He now works for a BPO company.

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TAGS: career choices, Joberson Benito, rice farmers, rice tariffication, Young Blood
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