Eastern Visayas farmers appeal for aid as lawmakers tackle national budget

FARMERS in Eastern Visayas have renewed their appeal for immediate help as lawmakers speed up the passage of the 2020 national budget.

"We are having a difficult time in maintaining our farm. Everything we do and use in the farm comes with a high cost," said Lolita Avorque-Candaza.

A farmer from Barugo, Leyte, Candaza said they are having a hard time accessing financial help from the government to improve their income out of planting rice.

In her .6 hectare farm, Candaza would spend about P6,000 for hybrid seeds and P600 for the daily rental of a water buffalo to help till the land.

"For my fertilizer, I would spend P1,400 per sack. My farm consumed three sacks of it. That's why the government must lower the price of farm inputs," said Candaza, adding the government "should subsidize our farm needs."

According to her, Filipino farmers will not become competitive compared to their counterparts in other Asean countries because they do not get sufficient government support.

As a tenant, Candaza said she only get a percentage share from the 50 sacks of palay (unhusked rice) per harvest.

She can only harvest the palay twice a year.

"We split the sharing to 75/25. What's left for me is 30 sacks of palay, then it will become about 15 sacks after being milled," she said.

When farmers sell their palay some private buyers, the rate goes down from P15 per kilo to P14 and P12, depending on the moisture content.

If it rains, the price of palay will get lower.

"It must have been a very tiring week for all of you as you fast-track the passage of the 2020 national budget. But we hope that you find extra time to hear what we have been up to this week and the past months," said Baby Senobio of the Northern Samar Samall Farmers Association.

"We, the farmers in Eastern Visayas, have been very busy searching for food. It must be ironic to hear that the very people producing food for the entire country are the ones who have nothing to eat. Yet the reality haunts us every day: our once vast fields are now turning into wide, dry farmlands," added Senobio in a statement.

Since the devastation of Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, farmers in the region have been experiencing an economic crisis due to the decline in the agriculture industry.

"The once main producer of copra, abaca, and palay is now facing more than 50 percent to almost 100 percent decrease in production. Later on, our coconut crops have been infested with brontispa while the bunchy top virus caused the zero abaca production in several towns in Northern Samar alone," said the farmer.

Amid their difficult condition, the farmers' group said they continued searching for food.

"But last year, we started experiencing the worst days of our lives. The price of copra and palay went down to P7 to P9, even P3 in some towns in Samar. We gain only P500 to nothing for selling copra. As to our palay, we lost what we planted after El Nino hit our fields," said Senobio.

"Our dear Senators, we have been crying for food - for an immediate subsidy and assistance...," she added.

Earlier, the Department of Agriculture (DA) assured that President Rodrigo Duterte "fully supports all Filipino farmers and fishers by empowering them to be more prosperous, as they contribute their share to ensuring food security for all our countrymen."

"...The President made it clear that he strongly supports, in particular, Filipino farmers who are confronted with low palay prices this harvest season," said the department in a statement.

Citing the President, the agriculture department said "the country's rice industry will continue to thrive with the implementation of the programs under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), which is aimed at making Filipino farmers more efficient and cost-productive so they can compete with their counterparts in Southeast Asia."

Duterte also the National Food Authority (NFA) to increase the country's emergency buffer stock from 15 to 30 days by buying more palay from farmers.

"Further, the NFA will accelerate the turnover of its inventory by buying more palay, and selling more regular milled rice at an average of 20,000 50-kg bags or more per day. Second, the unconditional cash transfer for small farmers affected by low palay prices will be extended from one to two years, with a budget of P3 billion per year. This will benefit 600,000 farmers, tilling one-half to two hectares of rice land," the DA said.

"Third, the DA through the Bureau of Plant Industry, will strictly implement the issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance (SPSIC)," it added.

Amid the farmers' protest, the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), however, "will be continuously pursued to provide affordable safe and quality rice to all Filipinos."

Danny Carranza, secretary general of land reform group Katarungan, said the various protests held by farmers are "very relevant development in the rural front in that for the first time, farmers across ideological divides have united to show their protest against a neo-liberal policy that is being pursued at the expense of the farming sector."

"This signals the start of broad rural unity that can only grow stronger in the coming days," he said.

"So generally, the government is under scrutiny right now in terms of its anti-rural poor policy such as the rice tariffication law and its incapacity to implement agriculture programs," Carranza told SunStar Philippines.

Rice, being the country's most important staple crop, accounts for around 20 percent of the gross value added of Philippine agriculture.

Food and Agriculture Organization reported that the country's rice industry employs 2.5 million households, broken down into 2.1 million farmers, 110,000 workers for post-farm activities and 320,000 for ancillary activities.

For farmers like Candaza, however, they still have to see if the government is sincere in helping them. (SunStar Philippines)


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