Whither Carper?

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Monday, March 10, 2014


OF BACOLOD’S local dailies, it was only Sun.Star Bacolod that featured the “news” on Dr. Raúl Fabella’s “Carp: Time to Let Go,” a critique on Carp Extension with Reforms (Carper).

Fabella’s article is not news, much less headline material. A Google check shows that BusinessWorld featured Fabella’s article as early as October 27, 2013. Philippine Star columnist Boo Chanco commented on the article on February 17, 2014.

Fabella’s talk last week at the Management Association of the Philippines AgriBusiness and Countryside Development Foundation Inc. was just a repeat of what he has said before. But let’s deal with the merits of his paper.

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University of the Philippines (UP) Professor Fabella provided interesting figures to state his case. He noted that poverty incidence with non-agrarian reform communities (ARCs) will be higher. Income of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) in communities is greater than the income of ARBs in non-ARCs.

On yield among beneficiaries in agrarian reform communities (ARCs), rice was 10 percent higher than national average; corn, 50 percent higher. In other words, those ARCs who focused on rice and corn production have better chances of improving their livelihoods.

As it is, only 54 percent of beneficiaries are in ARCs where most of the aid, both government and non-government, go. From 2010 to 2012 alone, ARC-affiliated individual ARBs received on the average P22,446 in credit support and P23,246 in irrigation support.

On the other hand, those who relied on coconut and sugar production earned 40 and 8 percent lower, respectively. Sugarcane workers who become ARBs do not morph into sugarcane hacienderos who have access to crop loans and farm machineries.

Moreover, the average of 1.2 hectares that ARBs received from Carper fragmented plantations that could otherwise produce sugarcane on an economy of scale. Even my development colleagues at the Alter Trade Foundation Inc. agree that cooperative amalgamation of small farms rather than scattered smallholder production can make sugarcane production economically viable.

Prof. Fabella provided exactly the statistical arguments against sugarcane production as the ticket out of poverty. If we want Negros Occidental to develop and be economically resilient, the province has to diversify and wean itself from sugar. Make sugarlandia a relic of the Museum of Antiquities.

Negros Occidental is nearly self-sufficient in rice, with many Negrenses shifting to rice production. This has opened a safety valve for a possible brewing social volcano that the province suffered in 1984 when the provincial economy was tied down to sugar.

If Rep. Albee Benítez’s Sugarcane Bill passes muster in Congress, policy could diversify the sugarcane industry from merely producing sugar to the production of power, fuel and other possible biochemical products and as a means for waste disposal.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan reported to President Aquino that, “We are on track with respect to our economic targets, but we lag with respect to our social outcomes.” He pointed out the poverty incidence and growing level of joblessness despite a robust economic growth in 2013. Obviously, the over-dependence on sugarcane monocultures has spawned joblessness in Negros Occidental.

To be able to generate the huge number of jobs, Balisacan said government must invest on sectors with the inherent ability to create jobs such as tourism, agriculture, manufacturing outside of the electronics and semi-conductor industry, construction and infrastructure.

So should government expand Carper in Negros Occidental? Yes, if the province is weaned from sugar dependence. No, if ARBs insist on sugarcane production and will sink them deeper into poverty.

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(bqsanc@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 10, 2014.

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