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As Agriculture Secretary, PresBBM Must Debunk Conventional Agriculture

Kim’s Dream Orlan Ravanera

An Urgent Call for Sustainable Agriculture

The Philippines is an agricultural country. Any development, be short or long, can be won or lost through agriculture. So far, our country is losing, based on the recent study by the United Nations Food Agricultural Organization (UN-FAO), stating that “in the last decade agriculture has just contributed .02 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that the peasantry are becoming the poorest of the poor. In fact, for every four young farmers, three have already left farming and have gone to the urban centers to work as janitors, drivers, waiters, dancers or what have you.”

The main culprit is Conventional Agriculture that has tied-up our farmers to poverty as everyone is profiting from farming, i.e., the seed and fertilizer dealers, the compradors, the usurers, but not those who are doing farming exposed to the excruciating heat of the sun and the outpourings of rain – the poor farmers. It is therefore imperative to debunk Conventional Agriculture and to shift to Sustainable Agriculture. But such is not an easy job as cartels and oligarchs controlling farming will not allow that paradigm shift. Thus, no way can they go against PresBBM himself if he decides to do so. Indeed, the only way to liberate the peasantry from poverty is through sustainable agriculture.  Why is this so? 

Prior to my joining a non-government organization whose raizon d’ etre is to promote sustainable agriculture and to stop the continuing plunder of our natural resources in 1991, I had been the Regional Information Officer of the Department of Agriculture in Region 10 for 7 years and its City Agricultural Officer in Cagayan de Oro for 4 years. I realized then that the gospels of Green Revolution I was disseminating as the DA’s Chief of Agricultural Communications using the broadcast and print media were hardly improving the quality of life of the small farmers, in whose name and in whose cause, I worked then for. 

In fact, that kind of agricultural system aptly known as conventional agriculture has benefited everyone, i.e., the fertilizer and chemical dealers, the rich agri-business sector, the local compradors, but never those who have worked under the excruciating heat of the sun and who have looked much older than their age – the poor farmers.  

I wondered then why Philippine agriculture has taken that path of erasing indigenous technologies and replacing our native seeds with so-called high yielding varieties (HYVs) which are solely dependent on the use of chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides. Those agricultural loaning schemes called Masagana Programs would not even allow our farmers to use other farming technologies other than the prescribed chemical farming techniques. The borrowing farmers were not given cash as loans by the lending banks but chits to be presented to accredited dealers of chemical fertilizers. 

Such became a massive farming debacle that was only successful in tying our farmers to heavy debts, to wallow until now inside the vicious cycle of poverty. Worse, we have not achieved food security, a great paradox in an agricultural country that is teeming with rich agricultural resources. While our vast tracts of lands boost of cash crops controlled by TNCs, i.e., pineapple, banana, papaya, palm oil and what have you which are not actually ours to eat but to satisfy the consumerist lifestyle of Northern People, we have to import some two million and half metric tons of rice annually to feed our hungry people, the biggest rice importer country in the world.

My decision then to leave the agriculture department was reinforced by a book written by an Indian Physicist, Dr. Vandanna Shiva on the fallacy of Green Revolution which is more grim than green. She narrated in that book that right after World War II, First World Countries found themselves having so much bombs in their arsenals. So, they commissioned a group of scientists what to do with them as such bombs had become obsolete as they were going nuclear. The scientists found that that the tons and tons of powder of the bombs could be used as chemical fertilizers and pesticides which were good for exports. But the Third World Countries, the Philippine included, had no use for these chemicals as they had then varieties needing no such inputs. So, the reason why HYVs came about.

Thus, it came to pass that for so many years until now, we have been bombarding our soils with these toxic chemicals which have killed the micro-organisms that are making the land fertile. We have massacred our beneficial insects. We have even put the health of the people at risk every time they eat leafy vegetables sprayed with synthetic carcinogenic pesticides. On top of that, we have contaminated our watersheds, our rivers, our bays, with these non-biodegradable toxic elements. Now, we have more Filipinos dying of cancer of all kinds, as these poisons have entered the food chain because our country has anchored its agriculture heavily on a kind of agricultural system that is amoral in its nature, oppressive in its form and approaches and destructive in its essence.

The urgent call therefore is to debunk conventional agriculture and to now effect a paradigm shift following an agricultural system that is environmentally sound, socially equitable, economically viable, culturally appropriate, gender sensitive and one that promotes the well-being of the communities aptly known as SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE. 

Such paradigm shift to sustainable agriculture has even become more imperative in these contemporaneous times of the Asian Free Trade Agreement (AFTA). Let us go back to history. In 1997, after the signing of the by the Asian leaders in Cebu, what the King of Thailand did upon returning to Bangkok was to take-off his crown and his robe to do farming with the Thai farmers. He told the Thai farmers not to use chemicals be it herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers as these chemicals make the soil acidic and even kill beneficial insects. He ordered them not to use tractors as the carbon dioxide emission deplete the ozone later and contribute to climate change. Instead, the farmers must use carabaos as the wastes of the carabaos can be used as organic fertilizer. Because of this shift to organic farming, the Thai farmers are now producing rice at only P5 per kilo compared to the Filipino farmers who are producing rice at P15 to P20 per kilo.  

As our country is now allowing the entry of cheaply grown rice from other countries to enter our country by virtue of the Rice Tariffication Law authored by Sen. Cynthia Villar, the Filipino farmers are at the loss. NABAON NA SILA SA UTANG. In fact, many have already committed suicide. That was the reason why the then Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Sec. Manny Piñol, resigned.

They are called the “backbone of the nation,” and the “unsung heroes,” but the farmers together with their families are living in extreme poverty because of a wrong agriculture paradigm. The urgent call of the times is of one of ecological sustainability, of oneness with nature, Let us refrain from sacrificing nature and the farmers to the altar of greed and profit.

It is so amazing that for the first time in history, no less than the President of the Philippines acts now as the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture which has not happened in any country. PresBBM may have known that the Philippines had then Sec. Arturo Tanco as Secretary of Agriculture during the stint of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos as then President. Sec. Tanco promoted Conventional Agriculture through the MASAGANA PROGRAM because he was then the Manager of the Planters Products whose main business was then manufacturing chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Our firm salute to PresBBM who is now the one to rectify a glaring social wrong to liberate our poor farmers from the quagmire of poverty and to achieve food security for the country. 

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