Dear Sir or Madam,
A few days before the elections – before we know who you are – allow me to write you a letter. This is not my story, but I feel this is mine to tell.
Let me first introduce myself. I am not a farmer, but I feel I don’t have to be one to tell you about their plight. I eat, and this makes me a stakeholder in agriculture.
I am based in Maguindanao, one of the poorest provinces in the Philippines. I volunteer for several groups that assist the poor, to help them find their dignity and find strength through community organizing.
Right now, I am a youth campaigner for #IAmHampasLupa where we promote and encourage the younger generation to engage in agriculture.
At this point, I am sure you know that farming is one of the sectors most youths don’t want to go into. The average age of farmers is 57 years old, just a few years shy of the mandatory retirement age of 60-65.
Why agriculture is not appealing to the youth is a no-brainer: a rice farmer’s average income ranges from P25,000 to P30,000 per planting season, or P50,000 to P60,000 a year. This is way, way below the P80,000 annual rural poverty threshold.
With no social security, little to no financial assistance from the government and, of course, with the loan sharks who continue to prey on our poor farmers, who would dare become one?
I was there in Cagayan de Oro, among the crowd, waiting for any pronouncement or meaningful discussion on agriculture, but there was none.
To be honest, I felt a little low that day, because you and your opponents did not really offer any solid or realistic plan to help our farmers and credible solutions to the problems of the agriculture sector. (READ: PH agriculture: Why is it important?)
And then Kidapawan happened.
What happened in Kidapawan is beyond alarming. This early, we are seeing violence as a result of food insecurity brought about by climate change. While hungry farmers were asking for food, they were given bullets instead. I cannot fathom how our farmers, who produce our food, have nothing to eat. (READ: Kidapawan and why the Philippines is always short of rice)
I know, for the past few days, you have heard these lines countless times, read it on every social media post, and watched it a good many times on television. But sir or ma’am, what are we going to do about this?
The Kidapawan tragedy is a sign that the current agriculture system does not offer a long-term solution to cushion the impact of climate change on the livelihood of our farmers. How will you address this combo of a problem, where state forces and the climate are killing farmers?
As part of a group documenting the drought that is currently wreaking havoc on several provinces in Mindanao, we have visited North Cotabato, where some of the farmers, who were part of the protest action in Kidapawan, are from.
The farmers we interviewed said it has been 6 months since the last rainfall and they are currently reeling from the 36-40 °C temperature index. El Niño has had a huge impact on the lives of the farmers, especially on their products and produce. (READ: How vulnerable is Mindanao to El Niño?)
According to a farmer from M’lang, Cotabato, a one-and-a-half hectare rice field would normally yield more than 150 sacks. But with El Niño they were only able to harvest 8 sacks. The farmlands are too dry and too burnt to sustain life for their palay.
Advice to the future president
Sir or ma’am, let me make a few suggestions. These are, of course, not based on technicalities, but on closely living with, and observing the plight of, our farmers.
First, weather reports and announcements must be democratized and delivered in a language our farmers can understand.
Armed with knowledge, they know when to plant their crops. They must be taught what climate change is, and what they can do about it. They must be taught climate-resilient farming.
I urge you to look into Ecological Agriculture, which adheres to safer, sustainable food production that puts back farming in the hands of the farmers.
You have the power to change this broken agriculture system that condemns our farmers to a life of uncertainty. Give us, HampasLupa youth, the reason and cause to encourage our fellow youth to try a career in agriculture. Whoever you are, Sir or Ma’am, the future of our country lies in your hands.
Mohamadan A. Abdulkasan, a youth campaigner for the #IAmHampasLupa Movement for Ecological Agriculture, is based in Maguindanao. He also volunteers for several organizations that work on development and poverty alleviation of Moro people in Mindanao.