Filipino farmers demand support as food, hunger crisis surge amid pandemic

IN the rural areas of the Philippines, the coronavirus pandemic coincides with the general retreat of agriculture.

Jansept Geronimo, spokesperson of farmers' group Kilusan Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (Katarungan), said the continuing trade liberalization of agriculture and the recent passage of the Rice Tarrification Law resulted in huge losses among rice farmers, vegetable and backyard livestock growers while small coconut farmers have been reeling from the low price of copra for some time now.

“The lockdowns further worsened the difficulty of rural communities as they were abruptly cut off from their markets,” he said.

To mark this year’s World Food Day celebration on October 16, Geronimo called on the government for “reflection and action to protect the human right to food of Filipinos and to support local food production.”

“The inability of the country to feed its own citizens amidst the pandemic manifested in hunger situation that continues to worsen,” said Geronimo, citing the latest survey by the Social Weather Stations.

According to the new survey, 20.9 percent of Filipinos experienced involuntary hunger at least once, 15.8 percent of whom were categorized as having experienced moderate hunger, while 5.1 percent were described as going through severe hunger.

The survey also showed a trend of rising hunger. For July, hunger was up 4.2 points from 16.7 percent in May and a total of 12.1 points from 8.8. in December 2019.

As the Philippines recorded 336,926 coronavirus infections, which is the highest in Southeast Asia, the country’s economic performance is also seen as among the worst in the Southeast Asian region.

“In a moment like this, it is more important than ever to recognize the need to support our food heroes - farmers and workers throughout the food system - who are making sure that food makes its way from farm to fork even amid disruptions as unprecedented as the current Covid-19 crisis,” added the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

“World Food Day should, as a result, be considered as an opportunity to call for global cooperation and solidarity to make sure the threats Covid-19 is posing to food security and agricultural livelihoods are confronted and the most vulnerable are able to get back on their feet,” it said.

Geronimo said the Philippine government “has not acknowledged that the uncertainty of livelihoods and the fear of hunger are the main reasons the lockdown failed to stop people from going around and ignore the call to ‘stay at home.’”

"Despite the importance of food access and the role that food producers’ play in this situation, food production and distribution are never really given serious attention in the government’s Covid-19 response,” he said.

“In fact, rice importation through the Rice Tarrification Law continued in the same manner that imported pork, poultry and other agricultural products continued,” added Geronimo.

According to Geronimo, the government should push for the strengthening of the capacity of small food producers to feed the country.

“This entails the localization of food system where production is reclaimed by small-scale farmer-producers through asset reforms and redirection of food production toward satisfying the food needs of local communities and poor consumers,” he said in a statement.

The farmers’ group also aired their other demands to ensure food security in the country.

These include the strengthening of support to local food production by providing comprehensive and subsidized farming support, improving sustainable farming technologies and enabling market access; fast-tracking agrarian reform in both public and private lands for farmer-tillers to have control over lands and make the land more productive; ensuring the non-reversal of agrarian reform through exemptions, exclusions and conversions; and reviewing real estate developments especially on irrigated rice lands as this further worsens food insecurity.

Katarungan also urged the government to review tourism projects in areas where food production, instead of tourism, is more attuned to the needs of local people; pass the coconut levy trust fund bill and use the coco levy fund to improve the living conditions of coconut farmers especially in this period of pandemic; and repeal the rice tarrification law, saying it “has proven to be anti-farmer and inimical to the need for strengthening local food production.” (SunStar Philippines)


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