Misguided government policies have hurt both farmers and consumers, according to Raul Montemayor, national manager of the Federation of Free Farmers Cooperatives Incorporated

MANILA, Philippines – In the face of dwindling food security, agriculture advocates urged the government to review its divisive rice tariffication law and agrarian reform policies. 

Farmers’ associations and advocates hosted a forum on food security at the Ateneo Professional Schools in Rockwell on Friday, October 21. The event brought together farmers, members of the academe, and the media, but government representatives declined to participate, which underscored the lecture’s key message: the concerns of farmers were falling on deaf ears.

“We have to fight. One of the first fights is to make the government listen,” said Maria Isabel Ongpin, founder of Habi-Philippine Textile Council. “Let us, all of us, take up the cause of farmers to help them be listened to.”

In particular, misguided government policies have hurt both farmers and consumers, according to Raul Montemayor, national manager of the Federation of Free Farmers Cooperatives Incorporated. For instance, Montemayor explained that the rice tariffication law had flooded the local market with cheap imported rice, drastically cutting the income of local farmers.

“In 2021, our output reached a historical high of almost 21 million tons. But in that same year, the incomes of rice farmers declined by an estimated P22 billion compared to 2017,” Montemayor said.

Worse, this drop in farmers’ income did not necessarily mean cheaper prices for consumers either.  While farmers’ average incomes dropped by P4,650 per hectare, consumers saved only P26 during the same six-month period. Montemayor claimed the benefits instead went to market intermediaries, such as traders. In light of this, he pushed for the government to review the safeguards written into the law, as well as the abrupt opening of the market to imports.

“In an ideal world and within the sanitized confines of computerized econometric models, these theories will probably work. But reality is very different,” Montemayor said. “Cheaper imports do not guarantee prices for consumers will go down.”

Agrarian reform must continue

The government must also not let its agrarian reform agenda stagnate, said Rene Cerilla, advocacy leader of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka.

“May higit-kumulang 500,000 ektarya ng lupa ng pagsakahan na hindi pa naipapamahagi sa ilalim ng agrarian reform, at ito po ay hindi pa itinutuloy ng pamahalaan. Hindi natin alam kung kailan itutuloy ang agrarian reform,” Cerilla said. (There are about 500,000 hectares of farmland that have yet to be distributed under agrarian reform, and this has yet to be pursued by the government. We don’t know when they will continue agrarian reform.)

With as many as 7 out of 10 Filipino farmers still landless, Cerilla stressed the importance of securing farmers with land. “Ang batayan ng pagkain at ang kasiguruhan ng mga magsasaka ay meron kaming lupa,” he said. (The basis of our food and the security of farmers comes from land ownership.)

This call to action came just a day after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he will continue to lead the Department of Agriculture until “structural changes” have been made. – Rappler.com

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