The Farmers Plea: Century-Old Problem That Still Persists Essay

The Spanish regime was accounted to be the longest yet one of the darkest periods of Philippine history under the hands of a tyrant colonizer. But this unfortunate chapter of our country set forth a hero who rose to fame and stood the challenges of time as a literary genius utterly disgusted by the abusive friars and corrupt government. One of his foreign biographers, Frank C. Lubach wrote, “He became not only the best-educated Malay but one the most astonishingly versatile scholars of his day in any race.

” Liberty was sought after by many Filipinos in ways they knew was possible, but Rizal sought independence through his perceived ideology beyond the norms of armed struggle and violence. For him, the pen is mightier than the sword. He deemed education as the cure for the ills that cripples the Filipino people and the country at large.

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Although not all Filipinos today and even the natives during his time had submitted to his idea of a peaceful revolution.

The hardliners of revolution would claim that his execution viewed as martyrdom was an overt act of cowardice unworthy of heroes accolade. But despite the conflicting ideas, we can all settle on the thought that Rizal was an instrument of unification of the Filipinos to be part of nation-building despite the cultural differences being scatted by numerous islands.

His eternal legacy through his writings ignited the Filipino hearts to make a stand, abandoning the idea of an inferior race but to see their selves as people capable of running the country for the common good. He was an embodiment of nationalism that prompted the Filipinos to fight for freedom and equality even after his death, a quality worth to emulate and enough to assail him as a national hero. Thus, according to the National Heroes Committee, heroes are those who have a concept of a nation and thereafter aspire and struggle for the nations’ freedom. He is an icon to the Filipino youth who exemplified education as a tool to cross the borders of ignorance despite the strong grip of the friars to deprive the Filipinos to get access to better education.

More than a hundred years after the country’s liberation from the Spanish rule, still, persist an ongoing battle cry for justice and equality coming from the poorest sector yet often neglected people in our society the farmers. The book of Rico B. Maghuyop et. al “The Life and Works of Jose Rizal”, described farming as a risky occupation during the Spanish regime. Senator Francis Pangilinan said, “Being a farmer is like being a priest; you take a vow of poverty and make a pact with the lord that no typhoon will come and destroy your crops.” Also, the book depicted the farming condition in which Filipino farmers had to deal with plagues, calamities, and tyranny of the officers and the robbers.

As I was contemplating the thought of an ongoing issue on Rizal’s time that is still prevalent up to the present time, I stumbled upon a headline a couple of years ago involving the farmers, an event took place straight from my hometown Kidapawan City. A case in point that illustrates a tale of grief and tragedy was the Kidapawan Massacre that caught the attention of the people both on the national and global scale. It was initially a peaceful rally of the farmers demanding for a sack of rice that ended with unnecessary shedding of blood perpetrated by no less than our government.

A news archive from Rappler reported that on April 1, 2016, one farmer was shot dead while 13 others got wounded in Kidapawan City after thousands of farmers protested and demanded 15,000 sacks of rice from the local government. These 3,000 farmer protesters had no food to eat due to the drought that plagued their area in Northern Cotabato. The narration of Ronalyn V. Olea stated that since March 30, nearly 6,000 farmers hit by drought barricaded the streets of Kidapawan City to demand immediate relief from the local government. But in the past two days of negotiations, the local government refused to heed the farmers’ demands. Gov. Emmylou Tali?o-Mendoza was offering only three kilos of rice per quarter, which the farmers found insulting. When police authorities ordered the farmers to leave, the latter stood their ground. Shortly before 11 a.m., combined forces of the North Cotabato police and soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines dispersed the barricade and fired shots at the protesting farmers.

Ironically, farmers were starving and worse, this is not an unusual scene in the Philippines. The Kidapawan Massacre was a grim representation of the truth which is no way different during the colonial era. Had Rizal lived today, he would have been in an outraged to see his countrymen dying at the hands of his people.

The Philippines as an emerging tiger economy in Asia has gradually shifted from an agrarian to an industrial and service-oriented economy. Jonjon Sarmiento, a sustainable agriculture program manager of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA) delivered a speech at the Asian Development Bank Food Security Forum on June 24, 2016, stressing on a high note the importance of the farmers as the backbone of the Philippine economy. He said, “If there’s no farmer, there’s no food, no future. Support us, love us.” In an interview by Rappler, Sarmiento expressed his dismay saying that the farmers are not considered as the pillars of economic growth and development. His sentiment was supported by the 2017 World Bank data showing the low level of productivity and slow growth for only 9.7% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, marking the lowest contribution to GDP in the country’s history. Meanwhile, the industrial and service sectors accounted for 30.5% and 60%, respectively in 2017.

But the agricultural sector, however, accounts for about 30% of the workforce or the third-largest employer in the labor sector. Despite this, the agrarian sector remains the poorest in the country. Farmers starve, and as a result, young people become more and more disinterested in engaging in farming as a means of livelihood. Yes, we have been blessed with different kinds of bodies of water, lands that are lush and fertile, and a climate that is favorable in growing various kinds of high valued crops and raising livestock, poultry, and other farm animals. But due to economic industrialization, this industry has been challenged. Our priorities have changed almost forgetting our fundamental need for survival.

Sara Solivin De Guzman wrote an article about the present condition of Philippine agriculture and the challenges that the farmers have to go through to survive. According to her agriculture is dying and this is a sad reality of the country. Agricultural land is being developed into industrial areas, shopping malls, and subdivisions. Farmers are growing old and their children have shifted into other careers. The agriculture industry has not progressed in ages. Many of our agricultural schools are producing office-oriented workers who would much rather do paperwork than help improve the agricultural sector of the country not to mention the many horror stories of corruption at the Department of Agriculture.

Even if the Philippines is primarily an agricultural country, we have not done anything to ‘cultivate’ this sector. In the sixties, we were ahead in Asia. Students from different countries came here to study agriculture and its technology. But what happened? They are now better than us and somehow we lost in the race.

Manila Times article provided a background on how our country was able to produce a sufficient amount of production more than enough to export our rice output to different countries before the rice crisis. “In 1962, not long before Ferdinand Marcos was elected president, the Philippines was at the forefront of pioneering scientific research on rice that introduced high-yielding varieties to the country. Supported by several international agencies, including the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, the main goal was to increase food production. Working at the newly established International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in Los Ba?os, Laguna, scientists from all over the world developed a type of rice called IR-8 that produced heavy heads of grain that grew on short, robust stalks able to bear the weight of the grain without toppling over. Output doubled between 1962 to 1964 and 1983 to 1985, with steady increases in between, rice yields rose from 1.24 to 2.48 metric tons of palay per hectare.”

But the tides have turned after a few decades, Normalyn Yap TIBAO from National Chung Hsing University conducted a study about the dramatic shift from once rice self-sufficient to now an import-dependent country. “Once self-sufficient in rice, the Philippines is listed by the US Department of Agriculture as the world’s top importer of milled rice for 2007, ahead of Nigeria, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. Over the past 20 years or so, the country lost nearly half of its irrigated land to rapid urban development. The shortage in the rice production of the Philippines has been augmented by imports from other Southeast Asian countries, particularly Thailand and Vietnam. The Philippines is the world’s biggest rice importer, purchasing between 1 million to 2 million MT each year, mainly from Thailand and Vietnam. This volume is equivalent to 10 % of the Philippines’ total rice consumption.”

Although people still think of the Philippines as an agricultural economy, farmers lack support, training and a morale boost. First, they lack basic skills in farming. Many are not educated or are only elementary graduates. Filipino youth has little or no interest in agriculture. “The average age of the Filipino farmer is 57. Assuming an average life span of 70, we might reach a critical shortage of farmers in just 15 years,” said Asterio Saliot, director of the Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Training Institute (DA-ATI).“The average level of education of a farmer is grade five only,” he added. With aging farmers and uninterested youth, how will the future of our agricultural sector look like?

Second, good fertilizers, pesticides, and seeds are imported from other countries, making them very expensive and unaffordable for the lowly farmer. Third, the government has not developed a good infrastructure for farmers such as farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, drying facilities, and milling centers, etc. Fourth, most of our farmers do not own the land they till. They cannot maximize the use of the land that results in low income and since they are just tenants, some landowners require a 50-50 share of the product, thus leaving only half of the produce to the farmers. Fifth, farmers have difficulty in financing their farming endeavors due to the high rates of borrowing institutions. The sad part is when harvest time arrives, the money from the sale is only enough to pay their debts and nothing is left for them. Sixth, farmers lack protection from the middlemen who take advantage of their weaknesses. The middlemen buy their products at a very low cost and the Department of Agriculture always seems to be turning a blind eye on these culprits.

Almost every year the government pours out a huge portion of it’s resources to the Department of National Defense to advance our military might and improve our defense capability. The Department of Agriculture, however, was always at the low end of the peoples’ taxes obtaining a budget not enough to support the desired development and modernization underscoring the farmers as the backbone of food security. The national budget proposed by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte for 2020 shows it is prioritizing infrastructure, social services like education and universal health care, and peace and national security. Agriculture, on the other hand, round up the top ten budget next year landing the top 8th spot as the government’s priority. There is a disregard for agriculture when it comes to funding which is the reason why the Philippines now was lagging specifically on rice production compared to it’s neighboring countries whom they viewed before as an advance country for agriculture.

We have yet to see from the government an intervention that will prioritize the farmers the same as how they viewed the importance of the military people. It is because of the farmers’ ceaseless efforts that we have something to eat to fill our stomach and nourish our body. The sad thing is that most people not only the government do not appreciate and give importance to their existence and contribution. What’s more heart-breaking is that they work harder, but earn less. They earn less not just because of the small amount of income they gain, but because of the little value given to them.

They earn less because most Filipinos do not deeply appreciate their important role in society as food producers. Rain or shine, they go to the fields to check on the crops and do everything to have a good harvest to gain bigger income. They spend almost half of the day under various difficult situations, but they do not earn what they deserve. They receive less of the government’s assistance with an income not enough for their basic needs and they can’t even support their family. Farmers don’t deserve to get this in return who has a huge contribution to the society and the economy. It is upsetting to see that even if they fulfill their role in the society in the best way they can, together with the fishermen, they are still the ‘poorest sectors’ and ‘most vulnerable to hunger and poverty’ according to a report by Oxfam International Philippines.

Apparently, food waste is an insult to our farmers. Respecting our food by consuming what is enough for us is a way of respecting our farmers who worked hard to produce it. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, food waste is a global problem and a challenge to sustainable development. Globally, around 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted every year. This can feed the world’s hungry and food poor including our farmers.

Our farmers in the Philippines need empowerment, appreciation, and support. They need access to quality and affordable farm supplies that can guarantee them good returns. They also need the knowledge, skills, and technologies to combat the present challenges of the changing climate. Investment in the health of farmers, and financial and business literacy should also be a priority of our government and other stakeholders. Our farmers need to be healthy and business-minded to advance the agricultural sector. Farmers are very important in our food system. They will play a big role in feeding our hungry planet in the next decades to come. Most importantly in rural areas where the farms and farmers are full of potential. Innovations that can truly help our farmers should not be kept in laboratories or libraries. They should be brought to them in the field where the real problems are. The scientific community working on agricultural innovations should also be fair on the price of their products and services. Affordable and efficient innovations can be the best way our farmers can use to advance agriculture, and also their quality of life.

On an important note, the youth should be empowered to contribute to our agriculture sector. Scholarships in agriculture should be prioritized by relevant stakeholders. Youth, especially in rural farming communities should be empowered with advanced knowledge and skills in agricultural developments and innovations. Let us not wait for the time when our farmers will give up on us. It is time to rethink how each of us can help them, even in small ways.

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