Saturday, May 25, 2024

Left to Plow in Silence

by Ivan Anthony A. Adaro | April 18, 2022

Nature is on the verge of collapsing to its breaking point. Following the tipoff of the world’s rising global temperatures, frequent visitations of typhoons, modern urbanization, and population growth, climate change continues to deteriorate the environment tremendously, making it more vulnerable to the devastating impacts of natural disasters. Sadly, despite the fact that these effects are evident and prevalent in the current state of our environment, a great number of people still dispute its underlying impacts outright. While most residents of the industrialized world may not experience these dire effects right away, the devastation is felt on hand and experienced directly by the local farmers who continually till the lands and plow the fields under extreme weather fluctuations to keep providing local produce and food on the market and our plates.  

Every April, the Philippines celebrates Agriculture and Filipino Food Month for the bountiful harvest and fish the country has to offer to its people. Yet despite all that, we sometimes forget those that bear the hands that sowed the seeds of these harvests — the farmers. Rural areas are home to more than half of the Philippines’ 100 million people, and more than a third of them are poor. Agriculture and farming are the principal sources of income for many rural people, and for many of the poorest households, it is their only source of income. The majority of them rely on subsistence farming and fishing for a living. However, rural communities experience slower economic growth and have higher unemployment rates. This is due in part to the lack of productive capital, sufficient knowledge, and technological advancements, as well as market access restrictions. 

Keeping up with erratic weather changes is a big challenge for the Philippine agricultural sectors. Filipino farmers are finding it more difficult to provide food for the country as climate change continues to brew more typhoons and raise variable temperatures at a much more unpredictable rate. Unfortunately, the problems do not end with natural disasters and conditions brought about by climate change. Obtaining insurance and providing support to the local farmers, both in the financial and practicability aspects, are proving to be dwindling down, especially with the country’s location along the pacific belt of typhoons and the country’s laid-back farming technologies.

After pulling the economy forward, it is the poor farmers’ turn to seek help, as typhoons and droughts progressively ravage their crops. But how many would actually listen and heed these calls? When will financial institutions throw in a credit line? Given the climate change, the impact of a state’s non-compliance with mandated credit and unwillingness to provide them instantly with the necessary financial and practicable support is now much more pronounced, as per the reports of Ralf Rivas, a business reporter and journalist covering macroeconomy, government finance, and agriculture. Even implementing upgrades in the farming and agriculture sector, both in equipment and practices, have been laid back, considering how far behind the agribusiness and farming practices of the Philippines are. Not to mention that recovering the natural integrity of the farmlands after typhoons and calamities strike the area is a challenging feat and slow progress for the country.

Typhoons have wiped out P14.25 billion in agricultural goods, according to 2020 data from the Department of Agriculture (DA). The data was found to be higher by at least P4 billion compared to the P8.1 billion in agricultural damage due to typhoons in 2019. As of today, the Philippines continue to struggle to recover from the recent massive Typhoon Rai that had caused losses worth P11.1 billion in agricultural crops. More than 420,000 hectares of farming lands have been devastated by storm floods. Key staple crops like rice, coconut, and sugarcane have been wiped out across some regions in the country. 

These are just manifestations of the challenges that can be seen on the surface. But there lies a bigger problem beneath that not all people see — the harsh reality that the financial losses and farmland damages would have to be shouldered by the poor Filipino farmers. More than having nothing to sow at the time being and them being forced to make loans that would have to be taken out by their personal wallets, here is where the financial incompetence of the state and poor farming insurance enters the picture. 

Experts have long pushed for stronger insurance coverage and programs for farmers that would help them manage risk and ensure payment in the event when natural disasters strike. However, the Philippine Crop Insurance Commission (PCIC), one of the key programs dedicated to the well-being of Filipino farmers and Philippine crops, has always been lacking in budget and manpower. And while it is easy to point blind fingers as to who is at fault and to take the blame,  the biggest hindrance of all is the farmers’ lack of awareness about the existence of PCIC and other insurance programs, let alone how these insurances work. According to the reports stated in a 2019 discussion paper of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, “the lack of awareness is not only about the crop insurance program as a whole but also the mechanism for availing, how to claim for indemnity, and its benefits. The study also cited that the failure of farmers in filing for indemnity claims is partly attributed to their lack of knowledge on how to file for one. 

What would happen if our local farmers would give up on us? What if climate change, along with the lack of insurance and support, will push farmers out of the agribusiness and farming industry? At the end of the day, the welfare of farmers should be the topmost priority when implementing and executing agriculture programs and projects. They are, after all, the country’s primary food producers. Given that farmers’ income is very low and they are struggling to make ends meet, it is critical that governments and farming agencies increase and diversify their income. Farmers should not have to wait for a state of disaster to be declared or agricultural damage to be assessed before they can collect their insurance. Instead, support and incentives should be made available whenever farmers need them for a justifiable reason. Senate Bill 35, or the proposed Expanded Crop Insurance Act of 2019, was one of the proposed financial solutions to address these issues. It attempted to change existing legislation that previously only provided crop insurance to farmers who took out production loans. Such laws should continue to be strengthened and made to give local farmers the support and recognition they deserve. In addition to that, the importance of localized agriculture-related weather forecasts and advisories and upgrading laid-back farming systems and practices must not be neglected.  Insurance and other financing solutions should also be coupled with effective information dissemination to ensure that farmers know how to avail these incentives.

The agriculture sector, which is regarded as the backbone of our society, answers to our public health demands by guaranteeing food security for all Filipinos. Yet, despite their critical role, Filipino agricultural workers and farmers remain to be one of our society’s lowest and most disadvantaged groups, with the majority of them being underpaid. Our farmers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of these crises due to high levels of poverty and their lack of education. Although the causes of rural poverty vary greatly from island to island, common factors and contributors include a drop in agricultural productivity, unprofitable smallholder farming operations, and unsustainable practices that have resulted in deforestation and diminished fish supplies. 

Situations and gaps like these call for the need to provide reprieve and support for our local farmers. And it starts with us, people, choosing effective leaders that advocate the rights of people and these farmers. For a country where rice is a regular staple in our diets, we cannot afford to lose our farmers. It is high time that we listen to the calls of our local farmers, the front liners, and individuals that should not be left to plow in silence.

Sources:

Arcese, R., Marini, A., Pacturan, J. (n.d.). Investing in rural people. Retrieved March 17, 2022 from https://www.ifad.org/en/web/operations/w/country/philippines

Gavilan, J. (August 15, 2015) How can the Philippines have a booming agricultural sector? Rappler. Retrieved March 18, 2022 from https://www.rappler.com/moveph/102624-improvements-philippine-agriculture/

Philippines hit by over half a billion dollars in damages from Typhoon Rai; farming and fishing hardest hit. (January 9, 2022). Oxfam. Retrieved March 17, 2022 from https://reliefweb.int/report/philippines/philippines-hit-over-half-billion-dollars-damages-typhoon-rai-farming-and-fishing#:~:text=The%20Philippines%20is%20struggling%20to,roads%2C%20electricity%20and%20water%20lines.

Rivas, R. (November 24, 2020). How climate change, lack of insurance, push farmers out of agribusiness. Rappler. Retrieved March 17, 2022 from https://www.rappler.com/business/ways-climate-change-crop-insurance-pushes-farmers-out-agribusiness/

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