Bare Truth by Rose de la Cruz
Bare Truth

Soon, there will be no farming to speak of

Oct 20, 2021, 12:54 AM
Rose De La Cruz

Rose De La Cruz

Columnist

I read through the column of Rey Gamboa at the Philippine Star Tuesday which said that at the rate small farms have become unviable, small farmers will become a vanishing breed as their descendants are pursuing other means of livelihood.

Gamboa said “As is becoming more apparent, small farmers have been pushed further into poverty and small farms have become less productive.”

I have come across this narrative so often. Even in my former job with SM Foundation, where urban and rural farmers are being upskilled and taught to plant cash crops that will make their endeavors sustainable, profitable and worthwhile, old farmers lament how their children and grandchildren abhor farming because of its tediousness and back-breaking daily ordeal.

Little, if any, attempt is being exerted to showcase the other side of farming—that it is an undertaking worth pursuing to provide the family with fresh and nutritious fruits and vegetables, that it has a huge local market and that pretty soon, when pandemics and other calamities strike farming will be their life saver.

No push for grains

Little attention is being given by almost every sector of our society, including government, through the Department of Agriculture, to push farming of rice, corn and rootcrops.

The DA’s thrust is to push high value commercial crops, over the traditional rice and corn as it is cheaper to import than to produce our own grains (a prescription long pounded on their brains by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank).

So, if we soon find ourselves competing with wealthier rice-eating nations for rice supply, which by then would be constricted by tight demand and diminishing lands for production, then we have only ourselves to blame for abandoning the grains that have kept past and present generations of Filipinos alive and well.

Few young farmers

Our average farmer’s age now is 55 or 60 (depending on the region or province) since the younger generation of farm-families prefer to work as laborers (in construction sites and factories) and as call center agents (they can be trained to speak English anyway) and as clerks.

Only a few (and I could count with one hand) of the young farmers that I met in my SM Foundation days saw the wisdom and the beauty of pursuing farming as a career (more out of necessity to provide their families and themselves with healthy meals that pay better than a clerical job) and take pride in tilling the land that their parents or ancestors handed down to them.

Believe me, these young farmers (many of them have become professionals at one point but returned to tilling the soil) have seen better incomes to the point of establishing their own marketing networks and setting up market cooperatives to help other older farmers who have less optimism and bravado to expand their horizons and try other ventures to push their fortunes further.

When I talked to some of them and sang the song “Planting rice is never fun,” they would easily contradict me saying that depends on who you talk to. It is lots of work, but certainly fun because you interact and meet different people and you learn so many things along the way. I admire their positive attitude and openness to learn/adopt new things.

Urban farming on the rise

Paradoxically, it is city dwellers (those in urban centers of the country) that take to urban farming first as a hobby and then as a livelihood. It is the urban farmers that appreciate most the value of fresh foods on the table, being cushioned against price hikes for fruits and vegetables and getting a market to sell to when harvest is a-plenty.

And it is these urban farmers that are showing rural farmers the way to better farming. Rural farmers are often regarded as peasants because many of them are unschooled and unlettered since historically they gave way to their siblings to get to school and they helped finance the schooling of these siblings in the hope that so they can provide bigger incomes to the family in the future, once they get office or factory work.

City dwellers who have turned to farming (and find relief in it compared to the heavy polluted air they breathe in urban settings) are the ones buying farm properties and converting them into weekend farm endeavors, something they look forward to after working five days in enclosed, canned- air offices, to heal their souls, bodies and minds from the distractions of free radicals, bacteria and viruses in fresh farm air.

Some, in fact, have pushed farming into an entirely new business model—agri-tourism. The concept is to provide a respite for tired city minds to relax in farm environments and giving them a chance to dirty their hands by touching the soil in their trial planting. These agri-preneurs earn both ways, from their planted crops and from the rentals of their cottages and sale of fresh farm products to visitors.

What destroyed farming?

Gamboa had a good point as to what destroyed farming—the radicalized land reform program “aimed at redistributing land to small farmers to dismantle haciendas and the land tenancy system that more small farm sizes have shrunk to less than a hectare” after farm owners die and the property is divided among the heirs.

Without the essential safeguards to keep small farms viable, small farmers will dismiss as myth the idea that the land will keep them alive because what is left is not enough to raise them above the poverty threshold, now at a low of P8,022 a month for a family of five.

Even in developed economies, large farms benefit from mechanization and abundant government support for food sufficiency and for world trade through exports.

The US, for example, saw that the world was going to need a lot of grains to feed livestock industries, and therefore adopted significant measures that encouraged its companies to go into mechanized farming of barley, wheat, corn, and soybean.

Governments in other countries that have made a conscious decision to support a specific sector of agriculture have likewise built a system that incentivizes and protects farmers and farmlands. Such is the case of India and Thailand for rice.

Anti- farming laws

Sadly, for the Philippines, too many laws have been passed since the early 1900s to bring about land reform, and introduced little safeguards to protect local farmers from imported agricultural products being dumped in the country.

For sure, Filipino small farmers now numbering at about five million are struggling, especially if they persist in finding decent income from rice or corn farming without realizing the new paradigm shifts dictated by competition from other major producers of rice and corn.

My take

I am not a farmer. I do not even plant food crops. But in pots, plastics and other recyclable containers I plant flowering plants and ornamentals, not because I sell them but because I care to breathe fresh air that are purified by my plants.

I grow my kangkong (after cutting the leaves off from the trunk and plant the trunk on the soil) and part of my harvest goes to my table and the other part is eaten by my ever-hungry iguana.

If I had a land of my own, or a farmhouse, believe me, I will plant food crops.

I have a pot of red small native sili, I even harvested at one time bell pepper, eggplant and okra, which I delight looking at.

I even have calamansi on soil in cans that I put after squeezing them. I love the soil.

It heals my stressed body and mind. I love watering them and smelling the tanglad, oregano and other scents from my plants.

Let us not forget to plant those seeds. Do not throw them in the garbage bins. You don’t need to be a farmer to grow things. The seeds you sow now you will reap later, as fruits or vegetables.


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