Agrarian reform

Obliterate

farmer1Explaining her “no” vote to the Joint Resolution on CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program) extension, Representative Risa Hontiveros of the pseudo-progressive party-list Akbayan said that Congress has “managed to obliterate an entire class” with the approval of the said resolution. Obliterate means “wipe out”, “eliminate” or “annihilate”. I wonder how a single act of Congress can wipe out, eliminate or annihilate the entire Filipino peasantry, which for almost four decades now, has been waging a civil war in the countryside to implement genuine agrarian reform.

As if her advocacy of CARP extension with reforms is the be all and end all of the peasants’ fight for land, Hontiveros has reduced the class struggle for effective control of land between peasants and landlords in the cozy confines of the House of Representatives. The Joint Resolution may have set back the peasants’ struggle for genuine agrarian reform in the parliamentary arena, not a surprise in landlords’ turf. But it certainly did not reverse the victories achieved by the peasants’ direct political actions in the countryside to own the land the till. Or will it hinder future triumphs of their agrarian revolution.

As the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said in its recent statement, “The legislative arena is just one field of struggle by farmers and advocates of genuine agrarian reform. Indeed, the battleground is far wider than the halls of a landlord-dominated Congress. It is in the remotest barangays in the countryside where farmers and farm workers should collectively struggle against oppression and exploitation that stem from landlord domination.

I can assure Hontiveros that the Filipino peasantry will not be wiped out, eliminated nor annihilated any time soon. Heck, they were not obliterated by the political killings and state terrorism by GMA and her armed forces. And no matter what this brazenly anti-people regime does, it could never kill and obliterate an aspiration.

What is certain is that the latest developments in CARP, combined with state repression, Cha-cha, and worsening poverty and hunger, will further fuel agrarian unrest and social discontent. CARP’s extension has only further exposed the rottenness of Congress, and in the process convinced a growing number of tillers that a strong peasants’ and people’s movement is the greatest hope for genuine agrarian reform in the country.

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Agrarian reform

On Gloria’s Food Summit speech

The National Food Summit, like other summits launched by the government in the past to supposedly address emergency situations, has been reduced to a self-serving publicity stunt, making the false impression that the rice crisis is being addressed as well as to justify current policies.

Similar to Gloria Arroyo’s speech at the Energy Summit last January which failed to address the urgent issue of high and increasing petroleum prices, her speech at the Food Summit held today did not mention anything about the need to control the soaring retail prices of rice in the local market. With Gloria Arroyo’s empty rhetoric on food security, the people gained nothing concrete from the summit. Worse, the measures announced by Arroyo will lead the country to more food crises in the future.

In her speech, Arroyo outlined her agenda to address the crisis and used the acronym FIELDS for fertilizer, irrigation and infrastructure, education and extension services, loans, dryers and post-harvest facilities, and seeds supposedly to make food abundant and accessible. But the FIELDS actually forms part of Arroyo’s existing medium-term development plan on agriculture which puts heavy emphasis on agribusiness development and not genuine agrarian reform and self-sufficient food production.

It is condemnable that the Arroyo regime is using the current rice crisis to justify and further implement the same flawed agricultural policies that helped worsen the country’s food insecurity. The emphasis on agribusiness development is a further setback to genuine agrarian reform and will worsen landlessness in the countryside. Note that the farmers’ displacement from the means of agricultural production especially land, lack of incentive and support to produce for domestic consumption, and restructuring to serve the global market have combined to perpetrate the permanent and worsening crisis of food insecurity that the country has been facing.

Arroyo’s renewed push for the farm as collateral policy, for instance, shows Arroyo’s bias for the market and lack of intention to implement a genuine agrarian reform program. This will only strengthen the monopoly control of agribusiness corporations, including foreign firms, as well as local landlords and capitalists on the country’s agriculture and farm lands at the expense of small Filipino farmers. It will only further make local agricultural production serve the needs of foreign markets at the expense of domestic food production, including rice, for domestic consumption. It will also make the consumers more vulnerable to supply and price manipulation by unscrupulous private traders.

Clearly, the Arroyo regime does not have the policies to effectively deal with the problem of skyrocketing rice prices and insecurity in the country’s food supply. Worse, the set of policy measures that the government is proposing threatens to further aggravate these problems.

The immediate state intervention needed today is to impose price controls on rice, dismantle the rice cartel, and strengthen the role of the National Food Authority (NFA) in the whole rice sector.

Meanwhile, the only sustainable long-term solution to the rice crisis is the reversal of globalization policies on agriculture and the implementation of a genuine agrarian reform program that will allow our farmers to produce food for Filipinos as well as other needs of the economy for its industrialization.

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Agrarian reform, Economy

Notes on the rice crisis

  1. The current rice crisis is a manifestation of the permanent crisis of Philippine agriculture and the economy in general. This permanent crisis is characterized mainly by backward production and intense concentration of the means of agricultural production, most especially land, in the hands of compradors and landlords.

  1. Such backwardness and lack of genuine agrarian reform have been aggravated by the neoliberal restructuring of agriculture, which has been most intense since the 1990s. They include the WTO-AOA (Agreement on Agriculture), rice trade liberalization, privatization of the NFA (National Food Authority), land use and crop conversion that prioritized production of high value crops for export instead of food including rice for domestic consumption, among others.

  1. The direct impact of these neoliberal reforms is the substantial erosion of the country’s self-sufficiency and self-reliance in food production. Farm area for palay contracted by 86,606 hectares between 1991 and 2002 as a result of land use conversion, based on the 2002 Census of Agriculture (CA) of the NSO (National Statistics Office). Corn, which like palay is also a staple crop, saw its farm area contract by 298,064 hectares during the same period.

  1. Overall, the country has become a net food importer after decades of surplus food production. From a yearly surplus of $667.5 million in food trade from 1980 to 1994, the Philippines recorded an annual average of $724.6 million in food trade deficit from 1995 to 2006.

  1. Thus, the current rice crisis can be summed up as the country’s incapacity, because of years of neoliberal agricultural restructuring, to meet domestic requirements through local production amid a situation of tightening global supply of rice. At present, the global supply is pegged at 323.3 million metric tons (MT) while demand is already 323.2 million MT.

  1. In the past years, the share of rice imports to the gross domestic supply of rice has been significantly increasing. BAS (Bureau of Agricultural Statistics) data show that from 1990 to 2000, imports comprised an average of 5.9% of the country’s annual gross supply of rice. The figure has jumped to 9.7% for the period 2001-2006. In 2005 and 2006, the import ratio was 13%.

  1. For 2008, Bayan maintains that imports could account for as much as 20% of the country’s rice consumption. This is much higher than the government claim of an 8%-share of rice imports to national rice requirements. Media reports in March quote the Department of Agriculture (DA) as saying that rice imports this year could reach as high as 2.4 million MT. This volume is equivalent to almost 20% of the country’s average annual rice consumption of around 11.9 million MT.

  1. With such a high level of dependence on rice imports, the country is definitely facing a serious insecurity in rice supply given the tight situation in the global supply-demand balance for rice. Worse, Vietnam, which in 2006 supplied more than 85% of our rice imports, is itself facing grave concerns on its own supply security.

  1. Vietnam needs to secure its own rice supply as it faces rapid contraction in its farmlands due to land use conversion, losing 125,000 hectares of rice fields in 2007 alone. It projects rice exportation to fall by one million MT per year and considers totally stopping exportation to protect its own food security.

  1. The Philippines is already feeling the impact of these developments in Vietnam. Out of the 1.5 million MT in rice imports that the country asked from Vietnam for 2008, Vietnam committed only one million MT. With a volatile situation in the global rice market – and other factors that contribute to this volatility such as extreme weather changes, US recession, energy/oil insecurity, etc – there is no assurance that Vietnam and the country’s other sources like Thailand can deliver. Note also that China, which used to export rice to the Philippines, is now a net rice importer.

  1. Because of tightening global supply, combined with uncertainties in the US economy that encourage massive speculation in commodities including rice, the price of rice has been soaring. Rice from Thailand and Vietnam, for instance, is already at the range of $600-700 per ton from only $320-340 per ton in 2007. As a consequence, local retail prices have been increasing rapidly. As of the second week of March, the retail price of fancy rice is pegged at P33.17 per kilo from an average of P30.76 per kilo in 2007; premium rice, from P26.93 to P28.91; special rice, from P24.72 to 26.91; and ordinary rice, from P22.39 to P24.58. Under the Arroyo government, the price of rice has increased by an average of around P7 a kilo.

  1. The NFA has been ineffective in stabilizing rice prices, which is one of its mandates, as it has been substantially weakened by commercialization and privatization efforts of past and present governments. While the government intends to keep NFA rice at P18.25 per kilo, NFA’s limited participation in the local rice market (only 5% according to IBON), which continues to be dominated by a cartel, do not make a dent on overall increases in rice retail prices.

  1. Tight supply and high prices will hurt the poor most. The rich have extra money to buy a big volume of rice, even at unusually high prices, that could meet their families’ need for a couple of months. For most families, however, they buy rice to meet a day’s need, or in many cases, a meal’s need. (Aside from those who could not afford a meal at all.)

  1. The urgency of drastic reforms, both in the short and long terms, is highlighted by the fact that the various reasons behind the tightening global supply of rice – climate change, energy insecurity, US recession and the crisis of monopoly capitalism in general – are far too complex to be resolved very soon. On the other hand, indicators show that they will continue to worsen in the coming years, and thus put even greater pressure on the country’s food security. Changing weather patterns, for instance, will significantly reduce production and yield in the generally backward agricultural systems of the world’s rice producing countries, including the Philippines. The mad rush to biofuels to meet growing energy needs, in particular in the First World, will continue to undermine food production, especially in the colonial and neocolonial countries.

  1. To ensure food security, the country needs to be self-reliant and self-sufficient in its food production, especially of staples such as rice.

  1. Medium to long-term reforms must include the implementation of genuine agrarian reform (land distribution, substantial and reliable state support/subsidy, etc) to encourage farmers to be more productive; reversal of agriculture liberalization (stop WTO-AOA, rice tariffication, etc); strengthen the mandate of the NFA in ensuring sufficient and accessible supply at affordable prices of food crops including rice and reverse its privatization and commercialization; dismantle the rice cartel; and stop land use and crop conversion and expand domestic food/rice production to levels of self-sufficiency (including a reliable buffer supply), among others. These policy reforms must start now.

  1. Immediate interventions (GMA must stop downplaying the crisis and recognize the urgent need for significant State intervention): Centralized procurement of imported rice of the NFA (cancel import licenses of private traders), increased presence of NFA distribution/retail outlets particularly in areas where poor families are concentrated (urban and rural); emergency fund that will directly go to rice farmers to subsidize production cost; price control (under RA 7581 or the Price Act, government can impose a price ceiling during times of calamity, disaster, or emergency).
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