farmers in the Philippines

[OPINION | New School] Farmers: Our famished food suppliers

Alyssa M. Ilaguison

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[OPINION | New School] Farmers: Our famished food suppliers

Illustration by Janina Malinis

'[With] Filipino farmers struggling to make ends meet, the country’s backbone is on the verge of breaking'

Who would have thought that an agricultural country’s food producers, the Filipino farmers, are starving, with empty pockets and dashed hopes?

Our town in an agricultural area of Mindanao prides itself as “The Banana Magnate of the Philippines.” Just north of Davao City, our locality boasts of vast areas planted with banana trees. Most people are employed by agricultural companies, which enjoy rich harvests from fertile land.

One might assume that a town like this is progressive in nature. Yet based on the experiences of a farmer’s child I know, he is struggling to sustain himself during this academic year.

I often see my neighbor, a fourth-year accountancy student, in front of our house, attending classes virtually while enduring the heat of the sun. When asked, “Kuya nag-unsa ka diraa?” (Kuya, what are you doing there?), he would simply answer, “Kusog man gud ang signal diri” (The signal strength is good here). I would often invite him to come inside our home especially when it rained, yet he would simply refuse every offer with a simple “Kaya lagi ni” (I can do this).  

On his worn-out bicycle, he sells what his father has grown in their vegetable garden for a very affordable amount. When sales are rough, he would only make around P50 to P75. If sales are good, he earns about P100 to P200. These earnings are simply not enough to feed a family of 6. Besides himself, his farmer father, and his housewife mother, he has 3 siblings all in high school.

As offensive as DepEd’s depiction of a farmer’s family is, this oversimplification is not entirely false. Most Filipino farmers live a very lowly life — a complete irony for an agricultural nation.

Based on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the planet is expected to have more than 9 billion people in 2050. Thus, more resources will be required to cover basic human needs. And based on current population and consumption patterns, there is already a need to do more with less. In agriculture, in particular, the greatest challenge will be to feed the hungry with fewer resources.

But with Filipino farmers struggling to make ends meet, the country’s backbone is on the verge of breaking. Because of all this injustice, what if our farmers simply give up on us?

The underlying root of all these problems is the sheer negligence of those in power. Farmers struggle with expensive farm supplies, new breeds of pests, climate change, and minimal to no returns on investments – all with little support from the government and other relevant sectors. To date, food producers are food poor, and remain one of the country’s poorest sectors.

Once, I casually asked my neighbor, “Did you not consider agriculture as your college course?” He answered, “Kapoy na mag-antos sigeg pananom. Dili nako matagaan ug maayong kinabuhi akong pamilya kung dili ko makahawa ani.” (I am tired of farming. I cannot give my family a better life if I continue in this field.)

How my neighbor feels sums up our lack of knowledge about the field of agriculture. Some deem agricultural courses as inferior to law, medicine, engineering, accountancy, and education courses. The prejudice surrounding this field only results in our ignorance of young farmers in different agriculture-related ventures (e.g., animal husbandry, ornamentals, landscaping, and agri-business economics). 

But to label my neighbor as ungrateful to the work that has nourished his family would be unfair. Those who attempt to escape farming are not weak, for they are simply worn out by the struggle of receiving almost nothing in return. And when Filipino farmers are starved of social justice, they are often fed with bullets and empty promises. Indeed, it is no surprise why some would simply give farming up as a job, even though it is decent and essential.

There can be nobody to blame but those who refuse to listen, and those who steal from empty pockets. The narrative of Filipino resiliency has long been used as a tool by oppressors to conceal hard realities. And although it would require a new social structure to change people’s perspectives on farming, exposing the hard realities the agricultural sector faces will establish a social awakening.

It is high time for the Philippines to nourish its producers with justice and bountiful returns. –

Alyssa M. Ilaguison, 17, is an SHS student from San Pedro College, Davao City.

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