Farmers hardest hit amid pandemic

Published August 7, 2021, 6:01 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

Agriculture Secretary William Dar said he has high hopes that the Philippines agriculture sector will still record positive growth this year, but his words are not enough to convince farmers that they are on their way to recovery.

Farm workers thresh rice during a harvest, in the barangay of Palattao, in Naguilian, Isabela province, the Philippines. (Photographer: Nana Buxani/Bloomberg file photo)

“Even if we see a growth in the performance of agriculture sector, it doesn’t matter anymore,” Pambansang Kaisahan ng mga Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (PKMP) Chairman Ed Mora said. “Because farmers remain poor and most of us are swimming in debt.”

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) is scheduled to release the agriculture sector’s second quarter and first half growth performance today (August 9).

Earlier, Dar still projected the farm sector to grow by two percent towards the end of the year, a significant recovery from the decline of 1.2 percent in 2020.

In a phone interview, Mora said that Filipino farmers don’t trust government data because this doesn’t reflect their actual situation. He then said that farmers have always had it tough, but things were particularly more challenging during the first half of this year.

“We still suffer from extreme poverty, but what we are experiencing now in 2021 is worse. The pandemic is still there and the government doesn’t have a budget for us for a subsidy,” Mora, who also serves as the representative of National Anti-Poverty Commission’s (NAPC) Farmers and Landless Rural Workers Sectoral Council, said.

“It’s hard for us to recover, and it’s going to be hard for us to recover especially in the following months [regardless of the growth in agricultural production],” he added.

Mora said the problem is in the policies that the national government has put in place over the last six months, such as the Executive Orders (EO) 135, 134, and 133 as well as the Republic Act No. (RA) 11524 or the Coco Levy Act.

For context, EO 135 temporarily lowered import tariff rates for rice coming from non-ASEAN countries, while EO 134 and 133 are meant to allow the entry of more imported pork in the country.

“The solutions are not right and farmers were at the receiving end of their negative impact,” Mora said. “For instance, why is the importation of rice continues even if the outlook on production is good? Farmers could not even find a market for their produce anymore”.

Mora was referring to Dar’s forecast on rice production. For this year, and despite the recent heavy rains, the Department of Agriculture (DA) expects the country’s rice production to be around 20.4 million metric tons (MT), which should eclipse the Philippines’ highest rice output of 19.4 million MT recorded in 2019.

At the same time, the country also expects the entry of more imported rice because of EO 135.

For his part, Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) President Danilo Fausto said the aforementioned EOs that were issued these past months discouraged investors to expand and invest in agriculture production and innovations.

“It brings the painful reality of bias of government to consumers versus production instead of balancing the two sectors which in the long run will hurt our agriculture sector, food security and improving the lives of our poor farmers,” Fausto said in a separate interview.

Fausto also shared the same sentiment with Mora about the agriculture growth performance.

“We might have some improvement in agriculture production in the first half of the year due to the summer harvest and we celebrate such good harvest during month of May, the feast of San Isidro Labrador, but the agriculture sector continues to sustain challenges in the supply chain to reach the market and compete with subsidized imports,” Fausto further said.