MANILA – The high incidence of poverty and hunger among Filipinos can be addressed by looking after our farmers, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said Sunday.
Government should focus not only on inflation, or the rise in prices of goods and services, said the former presidential adviser on food security and agricultural modernization from May 2014 to October 2015, but also on food producers, their welfare, and their incomes.
“Why is inflation there? Because prices are high. Why are prices high? Because supply is limited. Why is supply limited? Because our farmers are not capacitated. Because their output is low. Because government support is still lacking. Because they are still poor. Because they are hit by pests. Because they are devastated by typhoons and floods,” he said.
A farmer himself, Pangilinan said what is needed is to “support the farmer.”
This means, “Make him more productive. Increase production. Rather than relying on imports from other countries — because there may come a time when other countries will refuse to export to us, we should also look at our food security. Otherwise, we won’t ensure food for our people,” he said.
The senator said careful deliberation is needed on the proposal to import and impose tariff on rice, or it could be doomsday for Filipino rice farmers, who are already hurting from the high cost of production, landlessness, displacement, and government neglect.
“Importation is a stop-gap measure in providing cheap food now. But the strategic consideration really is to secure our farmers, so that they earn more, and that they are able to produce more,” he said.
Different measure of agricultural success
But instead of tracking only food production, government should measure success in terms of higher income of Filipino farmers, the senator said.
The Filipino farmer earns roughly P8,333 a month, which is below the P9,140 a Filipino family of five requires to meet basic food and non-food needs, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority’s Family Income and Expenditure Survey from 2015.
“When our farmer is not capacitated, supply is low and prices are high. And we are all affected. So we have to capacitate our farmers by bench-marking their income and comparing that with farmers’ income in Thailand, Vietnam, and China,” Pangilinan said.
Thai farmers earned as much as P382,000 a year in 2016, or four times Filipino farmers’ earnings, said Dr. Rolando Dy, executive director of the University of Asia and the Pacific’s Center for Food and Agribusiness, citing data from Thailand’s Office of Agricultural Economics.
Pangilinan was former chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and proposed the Sagip Saka Bill which aims to increase the incomes of farmers through private-public partnerships and farm enterprise development. The bill is currently waiting for its counterpart at the House of Representatives.