Productive rice farms in Bukidnon

The Philippines, nestled in the heart of Southeast Asia, stands as a unique enigma among its regional peers when it comes to economic development. Its trajectory of growth has often been a source of bewilderment and scrutiny, as it trails behind its East Asian counterparts in terms of economic performance. Indeed, the Philippines’ journey toward prosperity has been characterized by a series of challenges and complexities that set it apart from the renowned “East Asian Miracle” economies, such as Hong Kong, Singapore; Taipei, and the Republic of Korea. This divergence of fate was evident when the Asian Development Review, Volume 34, No.1 study, which celebrated the rapid economic successes of East Asia, conspicuously omitted the Philippines from its list of “high-performing economies.” While the reasons for this divergence are multifaceted, they are central to understanding the broader development puzzle that the country presents.

At present, the Philippines finds itself grappling with a per capita GDP that lags behind many of its neighboring nations with similar historical backgrounds. This glaring economic disparity raises questions about what factors have contributed to this underperformance and how the nation’s vast potential can be harnessed more effectively.

One striking characteristic of the Philippines is its geographical makeup. It is an archipelagic state composed of a staggering 7,107 islands, spanning a land area of 300,800 square kilometers. This unique topography, while breathtaking in its natural beauty, poses logistical and infrastructural challenges for governance, connectivity, and economic development. The dispersal of the population across these islands further complicates efforts to achieve inclusive and equitable growth.

Yet, amidst this geographical diversity, the Philippines boasts a coastline stretching a staggering 18,500 kilometers, a bounty that has gifted it with abundant marine and agricultural resources. Beyond its azure shores, the nation is blessed with rich agricultural land and a reserve of mineral wealth, including valuable deposits of chrome, copper, nickel, and gold. The potential for economic prosperity lies tantalizingly close, yet harnessing these resources sustainably and equitably remains a formidable challenge.

Speaking of Philippine agriculture, in 2021, the sector generated a gross value added (GVA) of about 1.76 trillion Philippine pesos, equivalent to a 9.6 percent share of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Filipino farmers play a crucial role in ensuring food security and economic stability in the Philippines. However, they face numerous challenges that hinder their agricultural output and livelihood. One of the most pressing issues they encounter is the unfair practices of traders who take advantage of them by buying their products at low prices while selling farm input products at exorbitant costs. (See Abad, Anthony A., et al. Unfair Trade Practices in the Philippines. PIDS)

This exploitation not only affects the income of Filipino farmers but also hampers the overall development of the agricultural sector. To address this issue and support Filipino farmers, it is essential for individuals, communities, and the government to take certain steps.

1. Raise Awareness

Raising awareness about the challenges faced by Filipino farmers is of paramount importance in mobilizing support for their cause. These farmers constitute a significant portion of the Philippines’ population and play a crucial role in ensuring food security for the nation. Unfortunately, many of them grapple with poverty, limited access to resources, and unfair trading practices that jeopardize their livelihoods. To address these issues effectively, various platforms like social media, blogs, and community events can be harnessed to shed light on their plight and advocate for change.

One compelling way to create awareness is through the use of social media. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram provide a powerful space for sharing stories and statistics about Filipino farmers’ struggles. Engaging visuals, personal anecdotes, and infographics can help illustrate the daily challenges they face, such as fluctuating crop prices, lack of access to modern farming technology, and land tenure issues. By reaching a wider audience through social media, we can amplify the voices of Filipino farmers and encourage individuals to join the conversation, support local agricultural initiatives, or even contribute to organizations working towards improving their conditions.

Blogs and community events also serve as valuable tools in fostering awareness. Bloggers and writers can delve into the nuanced issues surrounding Filipino agriculture, providing in-depth analysis and firsthand accounts of farmers’ experiences. Community events, such as farmers’ markets or workshops, offer a tangible way for people to connect with local farmers, hear their stories, and gain a deeper understanding of the challenges they face. These events can also serve as platforms for advocacy, where concerned citizens can learn about fair trade practices and how they can make ethical choices as consumers to support Filipino farmers.

2. Promote Fair Trade

Supporting fair trade practices is a vital means of aiding Filipino farmers who often grapple with poverty and challenges in their agricultural pursuits. Fairtrade initiatives ensure that farmers receive fair prices for their products, addressing the issue of exploitative pricing. By actively seeking products with fair trade certifications, consumers can play a critical role in supporting farmers’ economic well-being, particularly small-scale farmers in the Philippines who face hurdles such as unpredictable weather conditions and fluctuating market prices. These fair trade principles are designed to provide farmers with dependable incomes, breaking the cycle of poverty and contributing to the sustainability of their communities.

Furthermore, fair trade practices also facilitate improved market access for Filipino farmers, reducing their reliance on intermediaries and helping them connect directly with consumers who prioritize ethical and sustainable products. This direct link enhances their economic stability and empowerment within their farming communities, ultimately contributing to a more equitable and sustainable future for Filipino farmers. Supporting fair trade not only benefits individual farmers but also aligns with the broader global movement for ethical and responsible consumption, making it a tangible and impactful way to address the challenges faced by Filipino farmers.

3. Strengthen Farmer Cooperatives

Farmer cooperatives represent a crucial component of the agricultural landscape in the Philippines, offering farmers a means to enhance their livelihoods and level the playing field in an often challenging industry. These cooperatives enable farmers to unite, pool their resources, and amplify their collective bargaining power. One of the primary advantages of farmer cooperatives is their ability to provide access to much-needed credit facilities, a critical factor in the success of agricultural endeavors. These cooperatives can secure loans and credit lines on behalf of their members, allowing farmers to invest in modern farming technologies, purchase high-quality seeds and fertilizers, and undertake infrastructure improvements, all of which contribute to increased productivity and income.

In addition to access to credit, farmer cooperatives also empower their members through collective marketing efforts. The cooperative can negotiate with buyers, processors, and wholesalers on behalf of the farmers, ensuring that they receive fair and competitive prices for their products. This collective bargaining power is particularly essential in an industry where individual farmers often struggle to secure fair compensation for their hard work and produce. By working together through cooperatives, Filipino farmers can reduce their vulnerability to exploitative middlemen and achieve more equitable outcomes in the market.

Furthermore, supporting the formation and strengthening of farmer cooperatives can be a way forward to the development of agriculture in the Philippines. Cooperatives often engage in sustainable farming practices and environmental stewardship, which can help mitigate the adverse effects of climate change and promote responsible land use. These cooperatives also provide training and education to their members, enabling them to adopt innovative and environmentally friendly farming techniques. As a result, the impact of cooperatives extends beyond economic benefits, encompassing environmental sustainability and community development.

4. Advocate for Policy Changes

The “Magna Carta of Small Farmers” also known as R.A. 7607 was signed into law on June 4, 1992. The Magna Carta of Small Farmers is a creditable law aimed at improving the lives of small farmers by empowering them and harnessing their potential and abilities. This law, however, is becoming elusive. Small farmers are not empowered but exploited, leaving them in poverty lines. In 2019, during the 18th Congress’s first regular session, Micahel Romero submitted a House Bill to optimize the Magna Carta of Small Farmers. Policy changes are imperative to tackle the entrenched systemic challenges that have long burdened Filipino farmers and hindered the growth of their agricultural sector. Advocacy efforts should prioritize the implementation of robust regulations aimed at safeguarding farmers against exploitative and unfair trading practices. These regulations can encompass measures to ensure that middlemen and corporations cannot manipulate prices to the detriment of farmers. By fostering transparent pricing mechanisms and requiring fair compensation for farmers, these policies can go a long way in rectifying the economic disparities that have persisted in the agricultural industry.

Furthermore, to bolster the resilience and productivity of Filipino farmers, policies that offer subsidies for agricultural inputs are of paramount importance. Access to affordable seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and modern farming equipment is critical for small-scale farmers to enhance their yields and income. Subsidies can help alleviate the financial burden on farmers and enable them to invest in quality inputs that improve crop quality and quantity. Such support not only benefits individual farmers but also contributes to food security and economic stability at the national level.

In tandem with input subsidies, policies that promote and incentivize sustainable farming practices should also be emphasized. Encouraging the adoption of environmentally friendly methods, such as organic farming and agroforestry, can enhance the long-term viability of agriculture in the Philippines. Sustainable practices not only protect the environment but also reduce farmers’ vulnerability to climate change-related disruptions, such as extreme weather events and crop diseases. By integrating sustainability into agricultural policies, the government can help ensure the resilience of farming communities while simultaneously addressing broader environmental and food security challenges.

5. Support Local Agriculture

Consumers wield significant influence in supporting the livelihoods of Filipino farmers, and their choices can have far-reaching impacts on both the agricultural sector and the broader environment. Opting to buy locally-produced agricultural products is a powerful way for individuals to directly contribute to the welfare of farmers. This campaign by the Department of Agriculture in the country helped boost the morale of Filipino farmers.

As a good support to the local farmers, the government should seize intermediaries and middlemen. When consumers purchase goods directly from farmers or through local markets, they eliminate intermediaries and middlemen who often take a substantial portion of farmers’ earnings. This ensures that farmers receive a fair and more substantial share of the profits from their hard work, offering a tangible solution to the issue of exploitative pricing that has long plagued the agricultural industry.

Furthermore, choosing locally-produced agricultural products promotes sustainable farming practices and bolsters environmental conservation efforts. Local farmers are more likely to engage in responsible and eco-friendly farming techniques that prioritize the long-term health of the land and surrounding ecosystems. By supporting these farmers, consumers indirectly encourage the adoption of sustainable practices, such as organic farming, crop rotation, and reduced pesticide use. These practices not only benefit the environment but also contribute to healthier and more nutritious food choices for consumers.

In addition to fostering sustainability, buying locally-produced agricultural products reduces carbon footprint. Locally sourced goods typically require shorter transportation distances, resulting in lower emissions and reduced energy consumption associated with long-distance shipping. This not only helps mitigate climate change but also enhances food security by reducing dependence on distant supply chains that may be disrupted by global events. It also supports the local economy by generating income and job opportunities within the community.

Now, you know…

Collectively supporting Filipino farmers and empowering them to enhance their agricultural output represents a vital step toward achieving food security, economic stability, and sustainable development in the Philippines. It is incumbent upon us to recognize and appreciate the invaluable contribution that farmers make to our daily lives. Farmers are the backbone of our food supply chain, working tirelessly to cultivate the crops and rear the livestock that feed our nation. Their dedication and hard work often go unnoticed, yet their role is indispensable. By acknowledging the essential role farmers play in our society, we can start to foster a deeper sense of respect and appreciation for their efforts.

Furthermore, creating a fair and sustainable agricultural sector is not just a matter of social responsibility; it is a strategic imperative. The Philippines, like many other countries, faces the challenges of a growing population, changing dietary preferences, and the impacts of climate change. In this context, empowering farmers to enhance their agricultural output is not just a moral imperative but also an economic one. By supporting farmers in adopting modern farming practices, providing access to resources and technology, and ensuring fair market access, we can boost productivity, increase food production, and reduce dependence on food imports. A thriving agricultural sector not only ensures food security but also generates income and employment opportunities in rural areas, contributing to broader economic stability.

To achieve these goals, it is crucial to advocate for policies that prioritize the welfare of farmers and the sustainability of agriculture. These policies can encompass fair trade practices, access to credit and subsidies, investment in research and technology, and the promotion of eco-friendly farming methods. By collectively raising our voices and advocating for such policies, we can create an enabling environment for farmers to thrive. Ultimately, the well-being of farmers is interconnected with the well-being of our society as a whole, and by working together, we can build a fair, sustainable, and prosperous future for Filipino farmers and the nation.

By Roge Sison

An ordained clergy of The United Methodist Church.

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