The Farmers plight: The Small Scale Farmers Meeting at Makilala North Cotabato

   The problems in the agriculture sector is not new to us. We are all aware that our farmers and fishermen remain to be poor. We all know that our government import tons of rice and other agricultural products just to feed the growing population of our country. We are all aware that most of our farmers still practice synthetic farming methods just to produce good harvest. We are all reminded of these scenarios because it became “normal” to us. Is this right? Are we heading to the right path of development? How can we ensure food security in this country? How can we attain sustainable growth if we still continue the wrong practices of the past administrations? Are we asking the right questions? Or we are just fooling ourselves on it? Why these problems remain to be unfathomable?

   Anak Mindanao (AMIN) Partylist and Earthsoul Solutions organized a farmers meeting last August 12-13, 2016 at Don Basco Youth Camp and Training Center (under Don Bosco Foundation for Sustainable Development Inc.) in Barangay Batasan, Makilala North Cotabato. Thirty (30) small scale farmer leaders from Region 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and ARMM participated the meeting in which they shared their sentiments with regard to agriculture sector. They come up with propose solutions to the problems which will be presented to Sec. Manny Piñol with the help of Congresswoman Sitti Djalia A. Turabin-Hataman (AMIN Representative).

   The meeting had an intense discussion about the current situation of the farmers. We talked about their self-image, their aspirations, the barriers to achieve their aspirations, the root cause of the problems and solutions for it. The meeting raised important questions to help understand the situation of agriculture sector in our country. These are some questions that are worth to ponder: 

1. After spending billions of pesos in agricultural programs and research, the recommendations given by technocrats and agriculture experts, World Bank, United Nations and the like - the farmers cannot produce enough rice, corn, meat, fish, chicken to feed the Filipinos; farmers and fishermen remain to be the poorest among the Filipinos. Why? 
2. Why agriculture's contribution to GDP has continually slid down from 20-30% in the past decades to only 11.2% in 2015? 
3. Why our neighbors in ASEAN beat us black and blue in agricultural productivity in rice and all crops (except pineapple and bananas produced by multinational corporations) when we are the world's experts in rice and many other crops? 
4. Why do we need to import P7 billion of coffee beans annually from Vietnam and P3 billion of cocoa beans from Ivory Coast per year when we have the best climate and soil for these crops?
5. Why is Philippine Coconut Agency (PCA) encouraging oil palm cultivation in the country when it is bad for bio-diversity and environment; when it competes directly with our coconut industry (which PCA is supposed to grow), which give only 1/2 of income compared to an integrated coconut farm; When Indonesia and Malaysia are controlling its expansion?

   In the past years, I have read various study tackling these issues. The researchers recommended solutions to help solve these problems. I have also read government programs and international loan agencies that address the problems in the agriculture sector. Many experts have also shared their advices as to how to deal with the food crisis in the country. But look at where we are now; the Philippines remains to be dependent on importation of agricultural products and synthetic farming method. There seems to be a “battle” between synthetic farming advocates and organic farming advocates. What’s happening to our agriculture sector? 

   “Food security starts with the farmers,” said Edmundo Cejar, the presiding officer of the meeting. “We have to create the right environment to make it happen. We want prosperous and productive farmers. Self-sufficiency is in our hands.” 

   How can we achieve this vision if our farmers see themselves as a low class citizen of this country? If they do not appreciate their worth; if most of us do not appreciate their importance; if they do not have the right technology to farm; if they are in debt; if they send their children to school to get out of farming; if the young generation prefer to take other “prestige” courses than agriculture because they do not see any future of it; if the government still promotes synthetic farming method because they benefited from multinational corporations who produce it; if multinational corporation still expand their operation and continue to intimidate farmers and small land owners; if peace and development remain elusive; if our political system still corrupt; if our mindset still cling to unsustainable concepts. How can we attain food security, if we do not properly address this reality? 

   Even though I don't have an agricultural background, I am thankful that I have the opportunity to listen to the stories of small scale farmers who came from different parts of Mindanao. Through our group session and discussion, we are able to come up with a proposal which is inclusive, practical and sustainable. 

   The new administration has a perfect opportunity to correct the mistakes of the past including the malpractices of agriculture industry. We should be alarmed if right actions would not take over to solve this daunting problems. We just hope that our proposal will not put into oblivion. We hope that the agriculture sector will not again be in a hapless condition.

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