Philippine Agriculture was once a very promising sector in its excellence in providing sufficient agricultural products to every Filipino through an active and strategic partnership between our farmers and the Government.
We were an agricultural leader in Asia back then and our Agricultural Scientists used to share their expertise in rice farming with other Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand.
I remember back in the late '80s when we used to play by throwing muds in the newly plowed rice field just after the harvest season; the time when rice farming was the major source of livelihood of most families in our town. Whenever we visit other barangays from the town center, we get to breathe in fresher air passing through the green field of newly planted rice during the planting season, while during the dry season just before the harvest in March or April, the field turns into a beautiful golden brown grain of rice.
Those were the days when rice farming was a robust industry and highly profitable for both rice farmers and traders who are in the business of buying and selling rice. Those were also the busy days for my parents on making a living as a rice trader in our town that lasted for about 2 decades.
As a kid, it was hard to compete for attention with our parents on some busy days when they buy hundreds of sacks of rice from our local farmers, but that was also a good time for play whenever it is already stacked in our warehouse; the kind of play that some kids of today may not relate. Those were the past and one of the happiest moments worth remembering.
Challenges in the Agriculture
Starting the new millennium several challenges emerged in our Agricultural sector most especially in the rice industry. There were corruption issues with the Agriculture Department and the National Food Authority; a Government agency that regulates and maintains sufficient rice supplies for the staple food of Filipinos. Other issues include lack of government support for farming machineries like pre and post-harvest facilities, conversion of agricultural land to residential or industrial, and the low trade price of rice production from the farmers due to the proliferation of rice cartels.
Just in recent years, our Government faced even more challenges like increasing the price of commercial rice due to artificial low supply against its high demand to feed millions of Filipinos. With the lack of agricultural facilities, we are not able to produce the best quality and quantity of rice leading to lesser productivity and profitability of our rice farmers
The Rice Tarrification Law
Fast forward in 2019, just recently on February 15 when Rice Tarrification Bill was enacted into law with a measure to deregulate rice importation of private businessmen and individuals from countries like Thailand and Vietnam. The law also made some restrictions on the power of NFA for regulation and importation of rice, and they will just maintain enough stocks of rice for calamities. One of the best promises included in the revised law is the annual 10 billion peso Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund for a 6-year period and will be assessed whether to continue or revise the measure. The RCEF is a common fund that will come from the rice import taxes that is said to be given to farmers to address the existing challenges in rice production like the purchase of farm machinery, to provide credit or loan service to farmers, and for skills development in farming.
The effect on our rice farmers
This new law seems a short-term goal to address the current inflation when our poor families couldn't even afford to buy expensive rice. However, this could also affect our local rice farmers when they could not sell their produce at a good price making them helpless and leaving no choice but to continue rice farming as a means of livelihood.
The flooding of cheaper commercial rice in the market will be beneficial for the Filipino consumers in general, however, the promises on the newly enacted law would not be as promising as it seems. We could not forget the alleged agricultural scams like the fertilizer fund scam, diversion of agricultural funds to fake NGOs, and the present-day 'bukbok' rice or the insect-infested imported rice despite its lower price. Hopefully, this RCEF would not be another corruption in the making.
If there's an existing corruption in the Agricultural sector that remains to be a culture, the new law shouldn't be at the expense of our local farmers. Although we can give a new law a chance for the benefits it could give, still I feel for the unheard voices of our farmers. I am a son of a rice farmer and I have seen the hardship of our farmers who sweat it out under the sun and even though the rain gives us a staple food to eat on our table. Our farmers deserve to have a better life through the full support of our government from laws and programs that would help improve their greatest source of livelihood.
We do not want to see one day that our farmlands that are previously owned by ordinary farmers will become a gated community or townhouse owned by an oligarch. We do not want to see our country losing agricultural scientists who preferred to work abroad for a greener pasture. We do not want to see our future children losing interest in agricultural studies and activities. And we do not want to see our farmers dying because even they don't have something to eat. After all, the government killed the rice farming industry.
As I go back home in our hometown, another townhouse that is previously farmland might be rising and another hectare for private houses along the road is built. This happens when farmers sell their land to real estate developers for residential or industrial development.
In a few years, our next generation might not be able to enjoy the greenfield and the golden brown rice harvest that we used to enjoy. Those years of pure happiness away from modernity and technology that the present time has embraced. In a few years, we will gradually be shifting from agricultural to industrial and the vast farmland and lush greeneries will just be a thing of the past.
Let us help save our Agricultural sector by hearing the voices of our farmers who are the source and major producers of our food on the table. Let us patronize local produce and learn to appreciate and embrace agriculture in our modern way of living and so we can help our farmers thrive and live the decent and comfortable life they deserve.
© 2019 Del Cusay