Scientists Call for Thoroughgoing Reforms to Resolve Rice Crisis


To address the rice crisis, a group of Filipino scientists joined farmers in calling for a genuine agrarian reform program, mechanization and development of agriculture and support for farmers, among others.

BY RONALYN V. OLEA
BULATLAT
Volume VIII, Number 25, July 27-August 2, 2008

Scientists belonging to AGHAM or Samahan ng Nagtataguyod ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Sambayanan (Association for the Promotion of Science and Technology for the People) said that the measures being implemented by the Arroyo government would not resolve the rice crisis.

They proposed several alternatives, including subsidy for farmers, mechanization of agriculture and a genuine agrarian reform program.

Poverty

In a forum, July 24, Reynan Calderon, an agricultural economist teaching at the Bataan Peninsula State University (BPSU) said that the continuing rice deficiency is the pre-condition for the rice crisis.

He said that from 1991-2006, there was a 42 percent increase in the consumption of rice.

Calderon said that in the 70s and 80s, imported rice accounted for five percent of total consumption. He said that this increased to 14 percent by 2007.

Calderon explained that the crisis is actually an “effect of a more deepening poverty problem.” He said that most of the poor have nothing else or very little to eat except rice. “Walang maiulam, damihan ang kanin.” (No viand to eat, eat more rice.)

He cited Bataan as an example. Bataan has a four percent net surplus of rice. The Central Luzon region is a net exporter of rice, providing 18 percent of the country’s total supply.

Calderon disclosed that even so, the poor in Bataan would line up to buy rice from the National Food Authority (NFA) and many go hungry.

Calderon said, “Bataan and Central Luzon are a microcosm of Philippine society. Not everyone can afford to buy rice… As long as there is a deepening poverty problem, even if there is enough food supply, the poor cannot avail of rice.”

In the same forum, Fines Cosico, NFA grains operations officer and AGHAM project officer, agreed that there was no rural development and the poverty level is high in farming communities.

Citing data from the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP-Philippine Peasant Movement), she said that farm workers in Negros receive only P20-P90 ($0.45 to $2.03 at an exchange rate of $1=P44.23) per day; in Cagayan Valley, P69 ($1.56) per day; and, in Samar, P50 ($1.13).

Cosico attributed this to the problem of landlessness, with 1/3 of landlords owning 80 percent of agricultural land. She said 51 percent of farmlands are under tenancy.

She said that multinational corporations also control the land, with 220,000 hectares in Mindanao occupied by Dole and Del Monte.

Backward agricultural production

Cosico said that local production is backward and stunted. Philippine agriculture has a low mechanization level with only two percent of farms mechanized. She said that there are only 102 tractors, six harvesters/treshers per 1,000 hectares of agricultural land

Irrigation is very low, too. BPSU’s Calderon cited that while 19 percent of the total irrigated area in the Philippines is in Central Luzon, still, 85 percent of agricultural lands in the region are not irrigated.

Cosico further said that 56.53 percent of farms are operated through manual labor; and 78 percent of the 4.61 million hectares of agricultural land in 1991 are divided into farmlands constituting less than 3 hectares each.

Cosico said that there was a three percent decrease in the number of farm areas in the past decade due to land use conversion. In Southern Tagalog, for example, more than 1.30 million hectares of agricultural land are under conversion while 172, 967.30 hectares have already been converted to real estate.

Cosico said that while the government uses modernization as byword in its policies on agriculture, the government is not actually modernizing agriculture.

She cited the Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) and the Medium Term Development Plan, supposedly the government’s program for modernization.  Under these programs, the catchwords are “food security, agricultural mechanization, rural development and global competitiveness.”

Under the AFMA, Cosico explained, food security is to be achieved through importation instead of increasing local rice production. With regards agricultural mechanization, she said that she has not seen anything concrete yet that has improved technical efficiency in farms.

She criticized the inclusion of global competitiveness in the definition of modernization under AFMA. “It will only strengthen the import-dependent and export-oriented character of the Philippine economy.” She asserted that the Philippine government should prioritize food production for local consumption.

Cosico blamed the globalization policies for the devastation of agriculture. She cited the structural adjustment programs (SAPs) in 1981 to 1985, which removed price control on rice and farm inputs; the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT) in 1995 and the Agreement on Agriculture under the World Trade Organization, which removed quantitative restrictions on agricultural imports and the charging of tariffs on rice.

Solutions

The Arroyo government’s measures in addressing the crisis would not work, scientists said.

Calderon criticized the government’s proposal to replace the staple food. Government officials said that cassava, banana, sweet potato may be staple substitutes. “This is politically, economically and culturally wrong,“ Calderon said.

He said that likewise population control management would not resolve the problem. Even if the population growth would register zero, Calderon said the deficit in supply would remain at ten to15 percent.

The real issue, Calderon said, is food security. He said that the converted agricultural lands in Calabarzon region alone could produce enough rice for the country.

Calderon said, “Government must intervene not only in rice trading and in providing subsidies, but also in providing the facilities needed.”

He said that the P50 billion ($1,130,454,442) budget of the NFA to import rice could be diverted to help increase local production.

In a statement, Dr. Chito Medina, national coordinator of Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG or Farmers and Scientists for the Development of Agriculture) criticized the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) for calling for another Green Revolution. He said that the Green Revolution, implemented in the 70s, and its introduction of high-yielding varieties nearly wiped out the country’s traditional varieties.

For Anakpawis Representative and KMP Chairperson Rafael Mariano, IRRI is doing nothing good for Filipino farmers and the Philippine agriculture. “It continues to be the number one perpetrator of anti-farmer rice research in Asia.”

For Cosico, lasting solutions include the outright rejection of globalization policies, providing economic and political reforms to local agriculture through the genuine agrarian reform program, and re-energizing agricultural science and technology for national industrialization.

Cosico maintained that agriculture is the base for industrialization.  It will provide the means of subsistence for the people and raw materials for industries. With the development of agriculture the rural population would become a vast market for industrial products and the main reservoir of the labor force for industry and other sectors of the economy.

Land reform

In a statement, AGHAM and RESIST (Resistance and Solidarity Against Agrochemical Transnational Corporations) expressed support for House Bill No. 3059 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) and for the House Bill No. 3958 or the Rice Industry Development Act (RIDA). Both bills are being sponsored by progressive partylist representatives from Anakpawis (Toiling Masses), Bayan Muna (People First) and Gabriela Women’s Party.

Antonio Flores, spokesperson and lead convenor of Bantay Bigas, said, “The RIDA will pave the way for the development and protection of our rice industry into a self-reliant and sustainable economic element of our national development.”

Dr. Giovanni Tapang, AGHAM president, maintained that GARB is the solution to the age-old problem of landlessness and feudal exploitation in the country.

Speaking at the forum, Mariano said that the Arroyo government must not take pride in the so-called accomplishments of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

He said that of the 3.8 million hectares covered by CARP, only 2.1 million hectares are private agricultural lands. This, he said, is equivalent to only 20 percent of the privately owned lands and 80 percent still remain outside the CARP.

Mariano said that certificate of land ownership awards (CLOA), emancipation patents (EP) and certificate of land titles (CLT) are being confiscated from farmers. “Walang security of tenure ang magsasaka, babalik at babalik sa panginoong maylupa.” (Farmers have no security of tenure, the land will go back into the hands of the landlords.)

Mariano said that it is essential to break up land monopoly control of foreign and local agricultural corporations. He said that while the GARB aims to do this, the peasant mass movement is implementing various levels of land reform.

Mariano said, “Ang masang magsasaka ay nagpapatupad ng bersyon ng tunay at puspusang reporma sa lupa. Kung sapat ang angking lakas, naipagtatagumpay ang kanilang pakikibaka.” (The masses of peasants implement their own version of genuine and thoroughgoing land reform. If they have enough strength, they succeed in their struggles.)

He said that the farmers’ campaign for the defense of land continues and develops amid violence from the state and landlords.

He cited the experience of Hacienda Luisita farmers and farm workers who have asserted their right to till thousands of hectares of land. More than 2,000 hectares are now planted to rice, vegetables and other crops.

In Hacienda Looc, Mariano said that farmers refused to leave even as their EPs and CLOAs were taken. The same is true with farmers at the Central Mindanao University (CMU) in Bukidnon and in Ha. San Antonio Sta. Isabel in Isabela.“Nakakapanatili sila dahil organisado.”  (They are able to stay because they are organized.)

Mariano maintained that farmers should not be made to pay for the land they till. After all, their ancestors were the ones who developed the land, he said.

The peasant leader also cited successful campaigns for the decrease in land rent, decrease in interest of debt, for the increase in the farm gate prices of agricultural products, and increase in the wages of farm workers.

Mariano said that peasants also have asserted their right to organization despite threats and harassments from state security forces.

He said that the GARB is a response to the peasant mass movement’s campaign for land reform. The central objective of GARB is the free distribution of agricultural land.

Mariano said that free distribution will correct the historical social injustice against farmers who till and develop the land as the landlords wait for their share by virtue of pieces of paper. Bulatlat

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