Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Manny Piñol posted on his Facebook page that ending of age-old exploitation and oppression could prove to be a historic day for the Filipino farmers and fisher folks, undoubtedly the poorest among the country’s economic sectors.
“The Senate Committee on Agriculture chaired by Senator Francis Pangilinan will conduct a hearing on several issues affecting Philippine rice farming, including the lifting of the Quantitative Restrictions (QR) on imported rice,” stated Sec. Piñol.
“As one of the resource persons during the hearing, I will explain why the lifting of the QR, which would result in the flooding of the local market with imported rice, could work against the best interest not only of the rice farming sector but the country as a whole,” he added.
The Agriculture Secretary said that more than that, he will also bring to the attention of our legislators the age-old exploitation and oppression of the Filipino farmer and fishermen.
“Let us start with the rice and corn farmer first,” explained Sec. Piñol.
“The average grains farmer owns a small landholding, uses a carabao in plowing his field, borrows money from the middleman or trader instead of the bank, dries his grains along the highway or a small concrete pavement and is always at the mercy of the trader when selling his produce.
“His pathetic situation is a result of the failure of government to hasten mechanization in agriculture, provide easy access financing, establish post-harvest facilities and the inability of the National Food Authority to stabilize the buying price of rice and corn.
“During a favourable harvest season when his harvest would average 4 metric tons per hectare, he could earn about P60,000 against expenses estimated at P30,000.
“It would be a disaster for him, however, if typhoons, floods or drought damaged his crops because the money he owed from the trader would balloon due to usurious interest rates.
“The trader who buys the farmer’s palay at P15 per kilo and sells the milled rice at P40 per kilo earns a gross of P104,000 from the 4 metric tons of palay produced by the farmer.
“The trader makes a net profit of at least P34,000 not including the rice bran which sells at P12 per kilo and even the rice hulls which are also being bought by plantations now for mulching and also for power generation.
“There are no typhoons, drought, floods, tungro or plant diseases that would threaten the earnings of the trader.
“The greatest irony of this all is that most of the traders borrow money from the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) for their grains procurement and this happens because the farmer does not know how to access the credit facilities of the bank.”
Meanwhile, he said that the ordinary fisherman, on the other hand, more often than not does not even own a fishing boat. He “rides” with other boat owners or rents one at a cost of P250 per day.
“On a lucky day, he could catch 10 kilos, he may earn P100 a day. He will go home with nothing when the seas are rough,” Sec. Piñol noted.
“Worse, the fisherman does not even have access to a cold storage facility or even just sufficient supply of ice.
“Thus, in many of the country’s fishing communities, you would see women and children waving big fish for sale to motorists passing by.
“Statistics show that 40% of the fish catch of fishermen are spoiled because of the absence of ice and cold storage facilities.”
This is the sad story of exploitation and oppression of the Filipino farmers and fishermen, he said.
The Agri Chief said that unless the corruption in the agriculture sector is stopped and government invests heavily in agriculture and fisheries, the sad fate of the farmers and fishermen will continue.
“The hearing today could be the start of a national awakening and when that happens, the Presidency of Rody Duterte could go down in history as the Golden Era of Philippine agriculture and fisheries,” he added.