By: Ernesto M. Ordoñez, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 29 May 2021
On May 14, a total of 95 private sector organizations held numerous consultations, then conducted a National Farmer–Fisherfolk Congress. They subsequently signed a “Unity Statement in Saving the Plunging Livelihood of Filipino Farmers and Fisherfolk and Addressing the Critical Situation of Philippine Agriculture and Food Security.”
On May 18-19, a number of these organizations participated in the government-sponsored 2021 National Food Security Summit which carried the theme “Food for Today and Beyond: Transforming Philippine Agriculture.”
When a farmer leader was asked why a separate Congress was held when there was already a planned Summit, he replied: “The Summit’s plenary speakers were mostly economists, with no farmer or fisherfolk leader speaking. We were afraid our voices would not be heard. Nevertheless, many of us participated and submitted our Congress’ recommendations for Summit consideration. Since we are the ones who produce our food, we could not afford to be ignored.”
In this article, we will take up key points from the Farmer- Fisherfolk Congress. Next time, we will discuss the benefits of the Food Security Summit and how it addressed some of the issues raised by the Congress. The good news is the Summit synthesis delivered by Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines chair Emil Javier offered good directions consistent with key recommendations from the Farmer-Fisherfolk Congress. Whether these directions will be Nato (No action, talk only), or result in the transformation the Summit had promised will depend on our attitude. If we are skeptical and expect nothing, both the Congress and the Summit will be failures. But if we unite, we will achieve the success our agriculture needs.
Here are important quotes from the Farmer-Fisherfolk Congress Unity statement:
Current situation: “Farmers, fisherfolk, individuals and children residing in the rural area post the highest poverty incidences. Interventions did not change the unfavorable system to farmers and fisherfolk—mostly addressing the supply in the market while poorly addressing the development of local producers.”
Production cost: “The cost of production is high because of lack of vision and programs to develop the local agriculture and fisheries sector. Agriculture products entering the Philippines competing with our local products are highly subsidized by their respective governments, virtually putting a death sentence to the local agriculture and fisheries sectors.”
Producers and consumers. “The local producers’ interests are not in conflict with the consumers’ interests, as the farmers and fishers are consumers themselves. As the producers of food, we minimally reap the fruits and benefits of our hard work. Most of the gains are captured by middlemen and importers, especially unscrupulous traders who are to a large extent responsible for the high cost of consumer goods. This is exacerbated by the failure of the government to provide the necessary post-harvest facilities.”
West Philippine Sea (WPS): “The government’s ambiguous stance on foreign incursion into the country’s exclusive economic zone in the WPS threatens the food and livelihood security of its own people and the generations to come, not to mention the potential vast resource of energy. The government should exhaust all diplomatic means to assert the country’s preeminence in its territorial waters.”
Here are five of the Congress’ recommendations: (1) Rehabilitate the agriculture sector and uphold the rights and importance of small holder producers, the farmers and fisherfolk in the country’s development; (2) Demand a review of all policies that perpetuate unfair uncompetitive trade and hold accountable those officials responsible for pushing instances of irresponsible import liberalization; (3) Provide a Department of Agriculture that promotes relevant, appropriate, beneficial and inclusive policy for the sector, starting with the right data and credible data-gathering methodologies; (4) In preparation for the Mandanas ruling, ensure that the local governments have the support and capacity to come up with comprehensive and strategic agriculture and fisheries plans, and implement programs judiciously and effectively; and (5) Promote and institutionalize effective and robust civil society, farmers and fisherfolk, women, youth, indigenous peoples and elderly participation in governance, including local agriculture planning and program implementation.
Many of these issues were addressed at the Food Security Summit. But will transformation truly take place?
The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential programs and projects and former undersecretary of DA and DTI. Contact is Agriwatch_phil@yahoo.com.