Time to Listen to Farmers, Ministry of Agriculture

AT the final Ongpin (Disclosure: An Ateneo School of Government Annual Lecture in memory of my late husband) Memorial Lecture on Food Security on October 21, 2022, the speaker, Raul Montemayor, National Director of the Farmers’ Federation released, presented a paper entitled “Farmers’ safety is the key to food security”.

Montemayor is a veteran in the farmers business following his father, the late Jeremias Montemayor, looking after the welfare and welfare of the farmers.

The gist of his lecture is that if the government is talking about increasing agricultural production for food security, it must listen and care for the welfare of farmers if it wants results. Simply because it is the farmers who are the producers of the agricultural crop and they should be equal partners in the effort to increase production. For example, government programs focused on increasing production offer incentives such as free irrigation, subsidized credit, seed subsidies, and even ayuda. Yet Montemayor says that’s not what it seems for the farmer because the aid is directed to the product, not the farmer. Despite this surge in production, the farmer is still on his own.

Take rice, for example. In 2021, production of palay (unhulled) reached an all-time high of nearly 20 million tons, but that same year rice farmers lost 4,500 pesos per hectare compared to 2017. This was caused by weak farm gate prices caused by imports. The farmer was therefore not advantaged even if he produced. Rice pricing is really for consumers, not farmers. Banks are also not helping despite the Agri-Agra Act. They would rather pay the penalties than allocate 10% minimum of loanable funds to small farmers. And the government lets them do it while the farmers go deeper into debt.

Montemayor does not oppose the import if necessary. The Rice Tariff Act, which allows the importation of rice by removing controls and deregulating imports, also contains a provision that allows taxes to be imposed when there is a local supply of rice so that imported rice does not flood the market. Yet the implementation does not follow what the law says. Taxes are not waived when local supply is available. Indeed, a committee of farmers liaising with the Department of Agriculture (DA) to discuss matters that concern them both has been summarily abolished. The DA navigates the issue without the farmers.

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In an aside, Montemayor explained that the Bureau of Customs (BoC) is also of no help. Rice imports from Vietnam and Thailand, when checked from those countries, yield numbers well above what the BoC claims was delivered here. In addition to the discrepancy between what was sent and what arrived, the bureau refers to most imports as “broken rice,” which merits lower taxes. Very little first-class rice appears to be imported, according to customs records, but the market shows a quantity of first-class imported rice. On this point alone, the welfare of the farmers is ignored because the taxes paid are supposed to be used for the welfare of the farmers. Someone else benefits.

Another aspect vital to farmer welfare that does not appear to have been seriously implemented is the need for post-harvest facilities. It seems there is a budget but no significant and extensive facilities to show. Much of it seems to be spent on so-called farm-to-market roads, which have been politicized to mean roads where politicians want them. In addition, agricultural extension workers who are assigned to local governments to help local farmers are assigned assignments for local government officials such as drivers, messengers and gofers, who are far from farmers and their needs. .

Middlemen run amok over the lack or absence of post-harvest facilities, driving down the prices farmers have to accept because their produce rots or won’t last. Where is the government support for farmers on this farm?

Banks are not helping, local governments are abusing support for farmers, and the Department of Agriculture is looking the other way.

Montemayor says that if consumers are poor, farmers are even poorer. Why do farmers have to subsidize consumers when they can’t afford it? The rice pricing law needs to be amended or better implemented. It is ironic that while the rice farmer loses thousands per hectare, the consumer only saves 26 pesos per kilo since the law was passed. The prices haven’t really been significantly lowered. It seems that others benefit, not the farmers or the consumers. The law did not help.

While Montemayor concedes that at present we cannot achieve self-sufficiency in rice, it is time to achieve increased production with the right support and farmers’ gains so that we are not so heavily dependent on food imports. foreign. In Southeast Asia, out of nine countries in the Food Security Index, we are number 7 with only Cambodia and Laos slightly behind. With our natural resources and manpower despite natural calamities, if ingenuity and logic are used, we can and must do better.

Montemayor had a lot to say about food security and climate change mitigation measures, all of which have national importance based on each country’s vital need to achieve food security.

Unfortunately, during all this time, the Ministry of Agriculture focused on other issues and did not listen to farmers. She seems distant from those who are the vital cogs in the food security universe.

The officer in charge of the DA was invited to this conference, accepted, then apologized for having to be present at another event. He did not send a representative. So this conference had no Department of Agriculture paying attention to what the eloquent and able National Director of the Free Farmers Federation had to say.

It’s time to wake up and listen to farmers, Department of Agriculture.

About Alexander Estrada

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