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Political will needed

It is ironic that with hunger rising, agriculture is dying. This disaster can be solved only with political will.

Last Aug. 21, Boy Montelibano, special projects head of Gawad Kalinga (GK) and chair of Ateneo de Manila University 616569 Foundation, sounded the call for a private sector “Walang Iwanan Alliance” (WIA), as he saw hunger getting worse.

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WIA stated: “Hunger incidence has doubled from 10 to 20 percent. Since nothing of signi­ficance has been done to reverse this condition, 20 percent is not just a snapshot but the beginning of a trajectory.” Last Sept. 27, Social Weather Stations (SWS) confirmed the WIA’s predicted trajectory. Hunger increased from 9 percent last December to 21 percent in July, and to 31 percent in September. Seven and a half million Filipinos are now hungry.

A few days ago, the Department of Social Welfare and Development decreased the number of people it was helping from 18 million to 14 million families. It even wanted to return to state coffers P10 billion in unused funds at a time when things are getting worse.

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WIA continues: “Given these conditions, we must all join in averting a deepening hunger from provoking unrest. A strong response by ordinary citizens will show the government what is important, and should trigger a review of budget and allocation of resources (WIA website: walangiwanan.com).” Let us now, discuss agriculture, which provides the food for the hungry. On Oct. 5, Alyansa Agrikultura, the coordinator of AgriFisheries Alliance representing farmers and fisherfolk, agribusiness, science and academe, rural women and multisectors, met to discuss the hunger crisis. They agreed that agriculture was dying. They identified the culprit as the government’s lack of political will. Examples are given in five critical sectors: rice, poultry, swine, corn and fisheries.

Rice. Because of the rice tariffication law that imposed a 35 percent tariff on imports (when the tariff that would equalize domestic and imported rice is 70 percent), rice farmers lost more than P60 billion. Farmers selling dry palay in 2019 earned only half the income per hectare compared to the previous year (P15,480 versus P31,240). Those selling wet palay because of no access to drying facilities got only P3,560.

These are way below the poverty line of P10,700 for a family of five. This could have been prevented if the government had the political will to institute added safeguard duties that are allowed by both the World Trade Organization (WTO) and our own law (Republic Act No. 8800). Rice farmers showed evidence of rice smuggling, but got no action. Today, rice farmers continue to suffer.

Poultry. Small producers cannot compete with subsidized poultry imports. Thousands have gone out of business. They have lost more than P100 billion. In response to a request to temporarily limit poultry imports (there are 26 import restrictions documented at the WTO by several countries, while the Philippines has none), a videotape showed a government official asking the producers to regulate their production instead.

Even big companies are decreasing their production and are now importing. The alleged restriction on poultry imports from Brazil is being investigated on its proper implementation. Instead of protecting our farmers, we see our political will in reverse. Countries selling their excess subsidized production because of their own lockdowns are welcomed into our shores to unfairly compete with our small producers.

Swine. There are hardly any swine producers operating in Luzon now. Massive losses have been incurred because there was no political will to contain the Asian swine fever. In addition to the absurdity of our not having even one integrated quarantine facility, we do not conduct the required 100 percent inspection at entry, which other countries do.

In Taiwan, there is 100 percent inspection. We are not doing this because of alleged lack of people and resources. Where is political will?

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Corn. Today, corn farmers are up in arms. They are getting P9 a kilo, instead of the P13.25 support price that the Natio­nal Food Authority no longer gives. Feed wheat is now being imported as a substitute during harvest time, which is severely depressing prices.

With political will, the Department of Agriculture could have done the practice of the Department of Trade and Industry. This is to call a meeting between producers and users to determine the appropriate quantity and timing of the imports. The lack of concern on this recurring issue is worsening our corn farmers’ situation.

Fisheries. Our fisherfolk are the poorest sector in the economy. During the COVID-19 lockdown, they became worse off because a curfew prevented the normal fishing at night.

There is also a lack of poli­tical will in implementing a law that reserves municipal waters for small fisherfolk. The legisla­ted delineation of an area 15 kilometers from the coastline for them is not being followed. Even when done, enforcement is poor. Consequently, large commercial vessels get the catch reserved for municipal fishers, excessively depleting our aquatic resour­ces, and even export their catch, much of which we import back.

Imported fish that violate our laws (such as labeling) freely enter our wet markets, where our domestic fish is primarily sold. No apprehensions are made.

It is not too late. In the last two years of this administration, our government must exercise strong political will to stop the rising hunger and inject new life into our dying agriculture. This may then escalate our problem of food security into the more perilous one of national security. INQThe author is the president of Alyansa Agrikultura, a coalition of 32 federations and organizations covering agriculture and fisheries sectors. Contact is [email protected]

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TAGS: Agriculture, hunger, political will
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