GREEN MINDED: Thoughts on Philippine Agriculture Today

TERRIBLE things happened last week. The decision of the Supreme Court on the burial of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Heroes’ Cemetery draws outrage especially from Martial Law victims and their families and even to the younger generation that has deep understanding of history. The result of the US election was equally ugly, having Donald Trump-a known bigot, racist, and fascist as the next president for the United States of America.

What is more terrible last week was the declaration of Agriculture Secretary Piñol to accommodate more palm oil plantations in the country especially in Mindanao. I think it is timely and fitting to discuss the programs of the agriculture secretary and critically we can look into if these programs are in line with the Duterte administration’s promises to provide food self-sufficiency.

I can clearly remember during one of Duterte’s campaign sorties in February where he vowed that if given a chance, his administration will gear towards food sufficiency by giving priority in producing food crops than cash crops. However, the track of the current programs in the agriculture department slowly starting to deviate from these promises.

First, the nationwide program for soil analysis to update the obsolete data on various soil profiles throughout the country. At first glance, soil analysis and data update are good, however, at the grassroots level soil analysis approach is trivial and a remnant of the backward chemical based farming system.

Besides, the agriculture department at the provincial and municipal levels can provide on-site soil analysis that is more area-specific. To give due fairness for the soil data analysis program, I tried my best to grasp the purpose of having such, but as we can see this will only serve the interest of big plantations to provide a map where to expand or invest, and definitely not for the small farmers.

Second, the rice economy which for the past decades suffered blows from crop and land-use conversion. Between 1979 and 2005 there were 43, 141.64 hectares of land were converted, 37% of which were used for residential purposes while majority of it were for industrial, plantations and other purposes. Therefore, population explosion will not be a good excuse here to justify such conversions. Now, it is a good thing to declare and gear towards rice sufficiency, but favoring plantation crops for export will directly contradict such pronouncements.

In Mindanao alone, at least 500, 000 hectares of land were covered by plantations. From 2005 to 2014 the land-area covered by plantations increased by 79%. Let us not have an illusion here to build a self-reliant rice economy while welcoming more plantations.

Third, Piñol promised to help the farmers in recovering from the devastation brought by El Niño. Definitely it was a good move and indeed it was promising. However, this promise will remain as an empty rhetoric if we will not carefully study as how these farmers were devastated by El Niño. In North Cotabato for example, farmers were vulnerable during El Nino because the vast lands there were solely covered by plantations, mostly rubber. Yes, plantations and mono-cropping are the most vulnerable in terms of climate disasters.

Lastly, with all the optimism we had as this administration promised for a self-sufficient agricultural economy it is apparent that a substantial program of action to achieve self-reliance is lacking. We do recognize the efforts of the current administration to convene sectoral representations in policy making, however there is a need to digress from the top to bottom system of consultation, we need to depart from the “transfer of technology” approach. We must treat people as genuine partners of change and not mere receivers of our self-perceived method in finding solution in this country’s severe food insecurity.

I wish not to discredit the positive deeds of the good gentlemen and fellow Illonggo, however, the recent developments on the program of the agriculture department is alarming and remain to be subservient to the backward, import-dependent and export-oriented agricultural economy.

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