The Philippines is the only country in Asia which does not support farmers with farm subsidies. Vietnam is a net exporter of rice because of government rice subsidies, while we are a rice importer due to zero subsidies triggering poor production. Thailand is a net exporter of sugar because of sugar subsidies. Our sugar production is decreasing annually. Our coconut farmers ‘own’ billions in coconut levy funds, yet they remain poor, having no access to the money they rightfully own. The billions are kept in a bank which benefit the managers.
eastwind journals, June 25, 2022 (archives tr265)
By Bernie V. Lopez, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Note – There is now an ongoing worldwide drought that started in 2021. If it persists into 2023, there may be a serious global food shortage and famines in poor countries. Read more GLOBAL DROUGHT STAGE 3 – https://tribune.net.ph/index.php/2022/05/17/global-drought-stage-3/).
Lack of subsidies is the primary reason for our looming agricultural crisis. The less we produce, the more we are dependent on imports. Imports kill local farmers who vanish, seeking other sources of income.
There is no more money for subsidies because the top-heavy corruption-prone Department of Agriculture (DA), with its big budget, benefits the people in charge with high salaries, expensive service vehicles, allowances for frequent trips, expensive projects benefitting more the implementors than the farmers. We need massive reforms to correct these decades-old lopsided situation.
Let’s face it. We have an agriculture economy, whether we like or not. 70% of our population are marginal farmers and fishermen dependent on agriculture. An agricultural crisis is directly related to food security. If we strangle our food producers, we are headed for food shortages. If our productivity falters, and we fail to correct it, we may see 1) violent street protests against food shortages, which are happening right now in Sri Lanka and India; 2) famine and semi-famine conditions in poor provinces.
In the past, some elements in the National Food Authority (NFA) had secret alliances with the Binondo rice cartel, wherein hoarding and price manipulation were institutionalized. There are no instant band-aid solutions at the present state of our agriculture. It is a long haul and involves years, if not decades, and billions to reform the agricultural sector.
There are two critical factors that affect agricultural productivity – credit and middlemen. We have had a perennial credit crisis for small farmers for decades now, and no one has been able to solve the problem. The loan sharks thrive in the absence of legitimate credit, and they suck the blood of the farmers. Rural banks are hesitant to loan to farmers in fear they will be incapable of paying.
There have been successful micro-enterprise lenders but their dent is minimal because they do not have enough cash to reach a greater number of farmers. The key to grassroots lending is effective education for farmers to pay loans. What we need is for DBP to go massively into micro-enterprise lending based on previous successes, preceded by intensive education. If we get a truly ingenious rice czar to solve this problem, then we can improve our agricultural economy five-fold.
Here is an example of how vicious middlemen are, like loan sharks who suck the blood of agricultural people. In Mindoro, middlemen would reject half of the rattan harvested by Mangyans from the forest, painstakingly dragged for days by carabaos to the selling centers. When the half-paid Mangyans are gone, the middlemen collect the ‘rejects’ and double their income with free rattan. It is a cruel world out there.
Finally, when the rattan dwindled from over-harvest, the Mangyan went deeper into the forest, taking more days and more food to harvest, until their income was lost completely. Today, there are no more rattan left to harvest. The rattan story is the tip of the iceberg. Our socio-economic system has to be overhauled to service the grassroots who provide food for the nation.
To restore our agricultural economy, we need massive reforms in anti-corruption and in our socio-economic systems, a great feat that has not been done for decades now.
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