Farm-to-market roads: A farmer’s journey

Fritzie Rodriguez
What role do Farm-to-Market Roads play in the livelihood and food security of farmers and their families?

FARM-TO-MARKET ROADS. FMRs play a significant role in the livelihood and  food security of farmers and the entire country's rural economy. Graphic by Mara Elize Mercado/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – This year’s budget for farm-to-market roads (FMRs) increased to P12 billion from P5.2 billion last year, according to the Department of Agriculture (DA).

FMRs improve the mobility of people, goods, and services. They provide access to employment opportunities and basic social services such as schools and health centers.

“FMRs are the foundation of modern agriculture,” according to the DA’s FMR Network Plan. The DA said that FMRs provide market access to farmers, which can then motivate the latter to plant more, ultimately increasing their production and income.

“FMRs serve as catalysts in improving rural economy,” the DA added.

However, not everyone is impressed with the budget increase. Groups like the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), and the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) said many rural areas are still lacking FMRs, compromising the livelihood and household food security of farmers.

Problems in agriculture such as lack of resources, land tenure, technology, and infrastructure, contribute to one of the Philippines’ greatest ironies: Farmers, one of the country’s main food producers, are also among the poorest and hungriest.

Roads, livelihood, food security

FMRs can increase local trade and productivity, reduce transportation costs of farm input and output, and minimize post-harvest losses. They connect farms and coastal areas to main roads, hence promoting agro-tourism.

“Rural transport not only concerns the movement of farm produce, but also helps in household tasks such as procuring food, water, and fuel wood,” the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.

Ensuring physical access – transportation and infrastructure – to food is one of the dimensions of food security.

Christopher Garcia, farmworker and spokesperson for Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), said that poor rural roads cause delay in product deliveries. “Dagdag pasakit sa mga magsasaka magbayad ng ekstra para sa diesel at inarkilang sasakyan,” he said. (Paying extra for diesel and a rented vehicle is an added burden to farmers.)

When deliveries are delayed, the quality of crops drop, as well as their prices and sales – impacting the income of farmers and the food security of their families.

Some farmers would just let their products rot than spend for transportation. This impacts both producers and consumers.

Rural roads are also necessary for communication. In their absence, people become isolated, less participative in information exchange, and more vulnerable to deceptive market deals, according to Isagani Serrano, PRRM president.

“If all FMR deficits are to be constructed, this may generate employment in the areas of construction, road maintenance and cleaning. This can help farmers who are out of work during non-harvest seasons,” Serrano added.

The long road to road construction

The DA is in charge of promoting agricultural development. It is mandated to “raise farm income and work opportunities for farmers, fishers, and other rural workers.”

“One of our mandates is to ensure a sufficient food supply in the Philippines, by helping farmers in all aspects of their needs,” said DA Projects Assistant Director Bea Agarao.

Republic Act 8435 or the Agriculture and Fisheries Act of 1997 mandates the DA to be on top of FMR projects.

The DA leads the “construction, restoration, and rehabilitation of infrastructures like irrigation systems, post-harvest facilities, and farm-to-market roads (FMRs),” in partnership with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and local government units (LGUs). 

Length of Farm-to-Market Roads (FMRs)
AusAID recommendation for the Philippines 48,350 kms
Constructed by DA as of 2010 33,369 kms
Remaining balance as of 2010 14,989 kms 
DA target for 2011-2017Constructed by DA in 2013DA target for 2014
13,999 kms 1,108 kms 1,000 kms
As of 2013
Total FMRs constructed by DA 34,477 kms
Total remaining balance 13,873 kms

Based on a 2010 AusAID report, 48,450 kilometers of FMRs are required to be constructed in the Philippines. As of 2013, a total of 34,477 km have been constructed, leaving a balance of 13,873 km. 

Agarao said that the standard for FMRs in 2014 is P12 million/km – higher than last year’s P8 million/km and the previous administration’s P1million/km. This explains the budget increase.

The DA plans to complete the remaining FMRs until 2017. This year, it is targeting the construction and rehabilitation of 1,000 km of FMRs. Meanwhile, another 2,346 km will be constructed under the Philippine Rural Development Program (PRDP) in the next six years.

If DA accomplishes its 2014 and PRDP targets, the remaining balance for 2015-2017 will be around 10,527 km, which can cost up to P126.3 billion.

Given these figures, the estimated budget needed in the next three years is approximately P42.2 billion/year – nearly four times bigger than the current budget.

To help achieve these targets, DA implemented PRDP – a partnership with LGUs and the private sector in “providing key infrastructure, facilities, technology, and information that will raise incomes, productivity, and competitiveness in the countryside.” PRDP will also get funding from the World Bank

DA is also working with the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), through DBM’s bottom-up budgeting (BUB), in providing FMRs in the poorest provinces.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) PAMANA, together with the DA, implements FMR projects in conflict areas.

Demands

Farmworkers like Garcia are demanding for more government support. “Kung seryoso ang gobyerno tumulong sa magsasaka, magpamahagi sila ng lupa gaya ng sa Hacienda Luisita. Isabay rin ang paggawa ng matitinong kalsada. Dito sa Tarlac, marami pang ‘di naaayos na kalsadang malayo sa bayan.

(If the government is serious in helping farmers, they should distribute land like in the case of Hacienda Luisita. There should also be construction of decent roads. Here in Tarlac, there are still a lot of bad roads far from the city.)

PRRM stressed that “access to infrastructure could only help, but will not completely eradicate poverty. After that, you have to work on productivity and quality of products, and improve farming practices.”

“There’s no other way. Build FMRs, close the deficits. All Filipino households must have road access. The sooner this is done, the sooner poverty decreases,” Serrano said.

KMP questioned the government’s priorities. “Magsasaka ang isa sa pinakamahirap na basic sectors kahit na ang Pilipinas ay bansang agrikultural. Sila ang backbone ng Pilipinas, kung wala sila, ‘di tatayo ekonomiya natin,” KMP secretary general Antonio Flores said.

(Farmers are among the poorest basic sectors, even if the Philippines is an agricultural country. They are the backbone of the Philippines. Without them, our economy will collapse.)

However, demands are not only coming from people’s organizations, but also from the government.

Engr Reynaldo Faustino, DPWH Bureau of Research and Standards Assistant Director, emphasized the need for a disciplined public. Faustino noted that most roads deteriorate because many Filipinos do not follow rules.

Faustino said overloaded trucks damage roads and that some DPWH workers are even harassed when they try to penalize truck owners. He said drainage is another problem; floods worsen because people throw their garbage everywhere and some even steal manhole covers.

Faustino added that people must make both national and local governments accountable. “Kaya siguro napagiiwanan ang rural areas ay dahil sa lesser attention na binibigay ng LGUs nila sa infrastructure.” (Maybe rural areas are lagging behind because their LGUs give lesser attention to infrastructure.)

He encouraged the public to file complaints and requests to DPWH district offices and LGUs.

‘Same sentiments’

Agarao admitted that there is a FMR deficit, but clarified that the DA is doing its best to address the issue.

“We have the same sentiments as the farmers but we cannot implement everything in a year. But we try our best in requesting for a bigger budget each year,” Agarao said.

She said the DA needs P70 billion for FMRs but since this full amount cannot be approved, DA has to work with a smaller budget.

“FMRs not only link farms to markets. ‘Pag maganda ang kalsada, magsisimula rin ang ibang facilities, magtatayo rin ng paaralan at health care facilities. Maeenganyo ang magsasaka na magtanim dahil sa low transpo cost,” Agarao said, explaining the DA’s vision. (If the roads are good, other facilities would follow. Schools and health care facilities will be constructed. Farmers would be encouraged to plant because of low transportation cost.)

In the meantime, farmworkers like Garcia have no choice but to make do with what they have, hoping that one day things will get better. – Rappler.com