Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Agri posted a 4.8% growth. Why are farmers between Scylla and Charybdis?

THE manner by which growth is reported at the official level has the elements of a grand deception. But the most deceptive are the stats on agriculture. In the latest NEDA report, the robust 6.9 percent growth for the last quarter of last year was partly attributed to the supposed recovery of the agriculture sector, an amazing 4.8 percent growth, a rebound by any benchmark.
Yet, my naked eyes and your naked eyes have seen nothing else but this depressing scene – small farmers sliding deeper into debt and poverty. I am a farmer. Deep, deep in my heart, I always held on to the dream of small farmers getting out of the debt and poverty trap. But nothing of this miracle has taken place. The next generation of farmers will remain the literal men with the hoe.
How can growth be for real – be a tangible thing – when it bypasses 99 percent of Filipino farmers? What kind of country is one dominated by small rice farmers in numbers but listed as one of the world’s biggest importers of rice, if not in fact the biggest? And the two Jokers at the helm of agri – Kiko and Procy – think that notoriety is cool.
To my right, a small sugar farmer who a few years back converted his small sugar farm into a tilapia raising pond, is being pressured by the rural bank to pay up or face foreclosure. A supplier of aqua feeds told me he has a first lien on that small plot of land.
To say that that the small farmer to my right is between Scylla and Charybdis is an understatement. He may be in a worse case. He has stopped raising tilapia due to the futility of the whole thing. Even with diesel priced at below P30 per liter, (they pump water to sustain the ponds), his math says he cannot raise tilapia anymore. When will the bank move in and foreclose? Or, will the aqua feeds dealer exact his pound of flesh first?
His small fishpond is now a cogon patch.
To my left, my neighbor is currently mortgaging small plots of land that usurers and rural banks would have interest in. He says his kids and in-laws should find overseas jobs – that is the only way out of the poverty trap. Last time I heard, he paid somebody to help one of his sons get a supposed farming job in North America, as a fruit picker. How, in his state of desperation, can I muster enough courage to tell him there are no such farming jobs in North America right now?
In the rice farm my late father and I used to till (which is now being tilled by a third-generation member of the family) , the story of the last harvest season was just as depressing: It was hit by the Ebola of rice farmers – tungro — just like many of the neighboring farms.
The locale of these grim stories is Pampanga, a province with centuries of farm culture, and one of the first few provinces settled in by the Basques to propagate their modern faming technologies.
Where did Arcy Balisacan get his robust growth figure for agriculture, if those were true in the first place? I know the answer to that question. Agri-business.
• Tunnel ventilated piggeries have been on an unprecedented expansion. (Mr. Binay’s piggery is one. It is not air-conditioned. Submersible pumps supply water which is fanned throughout the production cycle within the enclosed hog-raising area to prevent the heat stroke of hogs.) The expansion is taking place in Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog areas still open to corporate farming. Tsinoys dominate this business.
• Tunnel ventilated broiler raising is on the rise. In the areas in and around Hacienda Luisita, the warehouse-like structures you see are not warehouses for factories but tunnel-ventilated broiler farms. There are a few independent operations but the dominant players, engaged in contract farming, are two agri-business giants. A “small operator” starts with a 35,000 broiler capacity, with the production cycle reduced to less than 40 days for a faster turn-around.
• Large-scale egg raising has been expanding in the Central and Southern Luzon areas.
• Fishpond operations has entered a regime of massive consolidation, fueling expansion and application of modern fish-raising technologies. The biggest operator, would you believe, is avid golfer Ben Abalos the former Metro Manila mayor and Comelec chairman.
• Of course, we know that in Mindanao farming is mostly large-scale farming with multinational corporations and major domestic corporations as the main drivers.
This is safer to say: 99 percent of agricultural growth is agri-business growth. In no way has “growth” in the agriculture sector been benefiting the small farmers like me and my neighbors.
Why can’t we be part of this growth? Easy to answer.
A 35,000 broiler operation requires an investment of P12 million just for the building, feeding equipment and two giant generators alone. If you buy land at P1 million per hectare (you need at least three hectares), then the minimum capital required is P15 million.
Five years ago, the minimum investment required for a conventional piggery was P10 million for a farm of 100 sows, level land included. It is higher now. This is just the basic structure, not the tunnel ventilated type.
For an egg-laying operation, the minimum capital required is P1 million for the building and 5,000 pullets. You have to spend a lot more if you first have to acquire the land.
Sadly, growth in agriculture – under any seasons and under all circumstances – exclude the small farmers who have no access to anything but their historic misery. Through their miserable lifetimes, they would be stuck between Scylla and Charybdis.

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