Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Revival of Our Agricultural Prowess

Let's Start the Revolution of the Filipino Youth XVII

One of the most neglected sectors in the country today is agriculture. Even though at least a third of our country's economic production comes from our farmers, fishermen and others in the agriculture industry, the government has not during the last 20 years done something very substantial in this sector. Sure, there is the enactment of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), the establishment of the Department of Agrarian Reform aside from an existing Department of Agriculture, the National Food Authority (NFA), the Philippine Coconut Authority (PHILCOA), and other agencies that deal with agriculture - none of these programs have actually improved our country's agricultural standing in the world.

We were top exporters of many agricultural products before - in rice, corn, coffee, sugar, manila hemp, pineapple, and other products but today we even have to import rice to feed ourselves. This is very embarrassing since the best rice research institute in the world is located in the Philippines - the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) located at UP Los Banos, Laguna. A majority of all new techniques, strategies and technologies on rice farming, and the production of new varities of rice, come from IRRI and yet alot of Filipinos suffer from hunger. Thailand, Japan, China and even Vietnam has greatly benefitted from sending their experts to study in IRRI and yet our country is lagging behind them in rice production. How can this be?

I remember a funny story a few years back that when a Philippine delegation was sent to Japan to study the good performance of rice plantations and new farming techniques there, the leader of the Philippine delegation was embarrassed to learn that the Japanese learned the techniques from their Filipino teachers, scientists and researchers in IRRI!

Agriculture will always play a vital role in the development of our nation. Until the day that scientists can produce food out of thin air, farming & fishing will always be our primary sources of food. It is thus very important and urgent that our government begin the necessary steps to correct this problem. Only by admitting that CARP has failed and that the performance of the DA team for the last 20 years since EDSA I has not been satisfactory, can we as a nation start to address our agricultural challenges. CARP has focused its efforts on land re-distribution but it has not provided for a much more comprehensive program wherein new farmers who already own their land can have access to capital to improve their farms and also which I believe the most important, access to the wealth of information regarding proper farming methods and practices. There are many government agencies that do not collaborate on this point. If the government is sincere then a new plan has to be implemented by engaging everyone involved - from the wealthy landowners, the farmers, the fishermen, the development banks, other government agencies, cooperatives and research organiations. An old Chinese proverb states that "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; Teach a man how to fish and he eats for a lifetime," and it is a very good principle to live by when implementing agrarian reform.

Only by truly developing our country's lands can we reap the benefits of any agriculture program. Over the last 50 years, we have not as a people learned the importance of farm to market roads, easy access to lending institutions, and the innovative research work needed for our country's food supply system. If we can get our acts together, then it will be easier to feed the hungry and stop the migration of poor people from the countryside, from the provinces to urban centers especially concentrating on Metro Manila - which inevitably causes more problems for the country. By making sure that farming is a great and financially fulfilling career like in the United States and Europe, we can move the country forward towards first world country status.

We are not like Singapore which has a relatively small population and it can offset the importation of many food items by making its services industry strong and very competitive. We must emulate the Americans and the Europeans who give credit to the work of their farmers and fishermen, and these workers are held in high esteem. You can see farmers there owning their own lands, own farming equipment, and own homes. In Europe, the case is the same. Even if our government doesn't give out subsidies, we can still revive our agricultural prowess by instituting what needs to be done which is first and foremost to dialogue with all stakeholders on how best to proceed. Farmers should be given a voice and their growth and development should be the government's primary concern on this field.

Farmers plant the crops that become food on our tables. Their produce fills our stomachs so that we can concentrate on our own work, or at school. It is time that we give back to them what they deserve. Under Chit Juan (for example), Figaro Coffee has been at the forefront of a new revival in the coffee industry in the Philippines but Ms Juan and Figaro are just a part of the needed solution - there are many more industries in agriculture that need to be revitalized. It is the government that should get down to work and plant those seeds. It is often said that we reap what we sow. Our country's bad treatment of our farmers leads to higher prices for the goods that we need, and if only, we as a nation will take up their cause, we can achieve self-reliant on our production capabilities in the future. Only by a strong support from the country's population can we re-ignite the power of Juan the Farmer to be great again.

Our lands are so beautiful and bountiful. There are thousands and thousands of species of both plants and animals that are only found in the country and yet we do not seem to feel its importance. It is time for action. Let us become proactive in our fight for independence - of independence from hunger, starvation and malnourishment. A healthy nation can take the action to achieve its dreams. A healthy nation can produce great individuals who will change the world. A healthy nation will bring education to the masses. Agriculture then is the single most important sector yet that we can revive to fuel our growth and development as a nation. The administration's RoRo project is an important first step towards this direction but more needs to be done.

To all young farmers, fishermen, and agriculturists out there, ignore the poor perception of your profession and demand reform in your sector. To the young officials of the Department of Agriculture, Department of Agrarian Reform, and other related agencies, help reform the government for the better.

And to all those young Filipinos out there, help out in whatever way you can the rural communities where our main food supply usually comes from.

And I hope by this simple article, we as a people realize that farmers are great providers. Our earlist ancestors were farmers. And Jesus Christ was a farmer as well, though he excelled in carpentry, in a sense he was a farmer when he planted the seed of Hope for mankind. Let us change our perception of becoming a farmer as a poor choice but rather as a great challenge from God.

With the passage of the Bio Fuels Act, the emergence of coffee drinking as a national habit, the research done by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the prospects of global warming, among others - places the action that we take now to be more urgent in securing a stead food supply for years to come.

Let's Start the Revolution of the Filipino Farmer!

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