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Remember our farmers in these elections

To say that the agriculture sector is being neglected is an understatement. Many administrations have passed yet this important sector is still left to languish.

The share of agriculture in the country’s GDP continues to lag behind manufacturing and service industries. The share of employed people working in agriculture is also dwindling through the years. And to make matters worse, our agricultural workers remain as one of the poorest sectors in the country.

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A lot of the problems presently faced by our farmers stem from longstanding systemic and structural barriers existing in our society, such as low output prices, expensive agricultural inputs, poor irrigation systems, to name a few; and government policies have a lot to do with these issues affecting our agricultural workers.

For instance, many farmers lamented that the passage of the rice tariffication law has resulted in the drastic decline in local rice prices due to the intense competition with cheap imported rice. They believe that this unhampered importation does more harm than good since it causes huge income losses and plunges farmers deeper into debt.

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Also, the aggressive economic programs of the government (primarily funded by loans) tend to concentrate on big infrastructure spending aimed toward commercialization. Although building new and upgrading our dilapidated infrastructures are necessary, they should not be done at the expense of the well-being of our people in the countryside.

To pave the way for the construction of highways, bridges, and huge industrial centers, many farmlands were sacrificed, displacing thousands of rural farmers and dispossessing indigenous communities of their ancestral lands and resources. Agriculture and industrialization are not incongruous to each other, but rather, they should be viewed as complementary aspects of national development.

Meanwhile, the proposed bill that seeks to allow complete foreign ownership of businesses in the country might lead to some irreversible impacts especially on the utilization of our natural resources. Many raise concerns that it may further exacerbate the neoliberalization of our agriculture sector wherein transnational companies will be given exclusive rights over our natural resources resulting in the exploitation of our environment and labor.

The ill-effects of climate change on agriculture should likewise not be overlooked. Year after year, we continuously suffer from destructive typhoons that bring massive losses and casualties to vulnerable communities. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go, especially in terms of harnessing the benefits of modern technology to make our agricultural communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

It is essential to recognize that we cannot attain significant progress in uplifting the conditions of our agricultural workers if the Department of Agriculture will continue to receive a meager share of our national budget. The problem lies, however, not only in terms of the size of the budget allocation, but also in its utilization that has long been mired in mismanagement and corruption.

Indeed, the pandemic crisis has revealed the indispensable role of agriculture in our lives and exposed the insidious problems affecting it. Agriculture should therefore be among the topmost priorities of our election hopefuls. It is too early to tell where our presidential candidates stand on certain agriculture-related issues. But I hope that as the elections draw closer, they will be more outspoken about their plans to address the root causes of the plight of Filipino farmers. There is definitely a need to revisit existing agricultural policies and assess their effectiveness and applicability instead of being path-dependent.

Finally, it is necessary that we give representatives from marginalized peasant groups the opportunity to be elected so that true and genuine representation of farmers’ rights and interests will be integrated in future legislations. These are the individuals who are adamant in pushing for vital reforms, from increasing the budget in agriculture to providing subsidies and assistance to farmers. Let us not allow the party list system to be used as a political backdoor for undeserving politicians. We have to provide our agricultural workers the platform to empower themselves and raise awareness about their conditions.

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John Patrick P. Habacon is a sociology major and a social science instructor at the Lyceum of the Philippines University-Laguna.

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TAGS: Agri, agriculture sector, department of agriculture, farmers, national elections
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