“Eliminating hunger and ensuring our nation’s food self-sufficiency starts with us” — farmer and civil society organizations

July 6, 2021

July 6, 2021

“Eliminating hunger and ensuring our nation’s food self-sufficiency starts with us” – farmer and civil society organizations

Civil society organizations, land and farmer rights advocates, and people’s organizations called for the Philippine government’s overhaul in its agricultural policies and food security strategies in an online forum dubbed as “Binhian, Bungkalan, Bahaginan: Tugon sa Panawagang Tapusin ang Kagutuman!” today, July 6, 2021.

The forum was organized by Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), Philippine Network for Food Security Programmes, Inc. (PNFSP), Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, Panay Council for People’s Development, Samahan at Ugnayan ng Konsyumer para sa Ikauunlad ng Bayan (SUKI Network), Agroecology X, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, and Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (SIBAT).

Sponsored by the Council for People’s Development and Governance through its PH Civil Society SDG Watch 2021 series themed “Rising above the health and economic crisis in the time of COVID-19”, the online forum identified government policies that are contradictory and detrimental to achieving food security and eradicating hunger pre and post-pandemic.

The groups decried neoliberal policies in agriculture and food production by the government as “profit-oriented”, “corporate-driven”, and “self-defeating” since it gives big agribusinesses and global financial giants the power to manipulate and dominate the entire cycle of food—from production, distribution, and consumption—through liberalizing economic safeguards at the expense of our local producers.

“When the Marcos regime implemented its structural adjustment program as dictated by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, agricultural subsidies for Masagana 99 and Maisagana 77 were removed. Through this, agricultural liberalization commenced and our lands were opened for foreign direct investments,” Zenaida Soriano says, pointing out the neoliberal roots of agricultural underdevelopment in the Philippines. She also explained how present reforms, like the Rice Liberalization Law impedes the development of local food production.

Hunger, which is said to be the most concrete manifestation of poverty, is prevalent in the poorest sectors—the urban poor, the workers, both in manufacturing and service sectors, and ironically, among the farmers and fisher folk. With the COVID-19’s economic throes, experts, including the UN World Food Programme, warned about the possibility of a “double pandemic” which entails widespread famines.

Seeing no future in the policies’ direction, the groups laid down their recommendations and alternatives comprising pro-people, farmer-led, and rights-based approaches and practices in strengthening the agriculture sector which lay the foundation of attaining food self-sufficiency and food sovereignty. 

“The implementation of market-oriented neoliberal policies in the country exacerbated hunger among the population, particularly the poor and marginalized sector of our society. Neoliberal policies should be stopped and instead, genuine people centered policies aimed at eliminating hunger should be implemented. We propose People Economics as the alternative development framework,” says Prof. Reggie Vallejos of SUKI.

“Since there is no reprieve from government’s promotion of Green Revolution and Gene Revolution technologies, Filipino farmers should chart its own direction in agriculture by asserting a people-led food and agriculture system, at the core of which is the conservation and improvement of our traditional, indigenous and farmer-bred seeds including domestic animals and their production through sustainable use of local resources controlled and managed by farmers themselves” shared by Cristino Panerio, National Coordinator of MASIPAG 

The groups also pointed out that before all these advanced practices can be adopted and promoted to the national level, inequality on land should be resolved first through genuine land reform.

“We must continue the fight for Genuine Agrarian Reform if we want to lay the foundations of food sovereignty” Prof. Vallejos affirms, citing landlessness as the biggest hindrance to primary food producers. “People economics supports genuine land redistribution as key in developing the countryside towards achieving food self-sufficiency”, adds Prof. Vallejos.

Aside from arable lands in the countryside, idle lands in cities can also be transformed into “food banks” that can feed communities.

“If Sitio San Roque is to be redistributed, its empty spaces can be used for sustainable and organic farming in advancing the community’s food self-sufficiency. This is what the likes of Ayala, Solaire, and others deprive us” narrates Rowena Bautista, member of Save San Roque, a multi-sectoral alliance promoting the urban poor’s right to the city.

The assembly asserts that to achieve genuine food self-sufficiency and food sovereignty, our farmers—not corporations and agribusinesses whose priority is to accumulate profit—must be at the helm of the endeavor.

“The present challenge of the pandemic has exposed the fragile, market and profit oriented food and agriculture systems that has brought loss of livelihood to farmers and hunger to the populace. Communities are now taking steps to regain their control over food and agriculture, from binhian (seeds as commons) to bungkalan (collective tilling) up to bahaginan (community sharing) and is now turning into a people’s movement to break the present food and agriculture system. We must unite and build solidarity in advancing these practices, and in the future, macro policies, that will put the people at the center of the chain which is the spirit and essence of People Economics.,” concludes Burly Mango of PNFSP. ###