For a country known to have abundant resources and rich soil for agriculture, it is disappointing to know the current plight of our local farmers. What is more depressing is how some people, even those in the authorities, seem to invalidate their struggles amid the glaring facts of their poor situation.
Local rice farmers are suffering and are on the losing end since the implementation of Republic Act (RA) No. 11203 or the Philippine Rice Tariffication law. Ideally, this law was enacted to ensure food security, make the country’s agricultural sector viable and globally competitive by using tariffs, and stabilize food prices and inflation. However, the law had worsened the situation of local rice farmers, who have been disadvantaged by the low prices of imported rice.
Unlike in other countries such as Vietnam and Thailand where farmers can produce a kilo of rice at P6, Filipino farmers sustain a production cost of P12 a kilo—making local rice costlier than imported rice. As consumers, we are happy about the lower rice prices in markets and stores. Unfortunately, behind this facade are our farmers who are in jeopardy because of the deliberate haggling by those who purchase these farmers’ palay.
It is sad that many of our farmers do not have it easy for them when it comes to living a comfortable life and now, they are even struggling to live a sustainable life. With climate change and the increasing cost of farming inputs, many farmers scrimmage to produce what the consuming public needs.
What is more agonizing is that some of our lawmakers still doubt the data showing the severe economic losses of our local farmers. Sen. Cynthia Villar, for example, once said that farmers who are hoping to sell their grain at a price of P21 per kilo is an exaggeration. This is “too much,” according to the senator. If we do the math, no matter what formula we use, it is obvious that this is not enough to sustain a family. The kind of perspective that Villar portrayed is a representation of the apathy of a capitalist towards the plight of the marginalized. The dignity of our farmers is being neglected by irresponsible leaders and citizens who don’t care for these farmers’ welfare.
The farmers deserve all the help they can get. Aside from being active in movements concerning our farmers’ rights, one way people can help Filipino farmers is to support rice farmers through opting to buy rice locally instead of getting imported brands. To step up our reach, we should also lobby to local government units to buy local rice. This will help ensure a stable income for Filipino farmers, and receive a constant demand for their products with reasonable prices. Aside from offering financial assistance to them, the government should also consider full educational scholarship for farmers and their children. Technologies should also be more accessible to the farmers for them to improve their productivity and increase their income.
If nothing will be done to help them, it is not only their source of income which will be at stake but also our food security. The inability of the government to address the main concerns of our farmers will surely create ripples of consequences to the public in general. Every grain is a symbol of life and every farmer is a symbol of the struggling Philippine agriculture. That is why we should treat every farmer’s narrative the same way they treat every grain—with utmost respect and importance.