Round Table Discussion on Sustainable Agriculture

December 8, 2016

by IBON Foundation

Ensuring Safe Food, Improving Livelihood and Incomes, towards Rural Development

The Round Table Discussion will be a venue to discuss options for attaining food self-sufficiency, improved incomes and promoting rural development, specifically: aggressive promotion of sustainable agriculture practices like organic farming as the viable alternative to conventional chemical farming, implementation of genuine agrarian reform program, improving irrigation and provision of the necessary infrastructure and capital support for agriculture.

Policy alternatives as proposed in several legislative bills filed, i.e., House Bill No. 1043 (AN ACT STRENGTHENING SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE AND ENHANCING SUPFORT FOR SMALL ORGANIC FARMERS, AMENDING FOR THE PURPOSE CERTAIN SECTIONS OF RA 10068 OR THE ORGANIC AGRICULTURE ACT OF 2O1O) for amendments to R.A. 10068 to make organic agriculture truly responsive to the needs of farmers and consumers; genuine agrarian reform or House Bill No. 555, free irrigation, including developing the rice industry.

Continuing food insecurity

Over the last decades, the target for attaining food self sufficiency especially for the country’s staple -rice, have barely been achieved despite various programs implemented.

Since the country acceded to the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) under the World Trade Organization in 1995 and other trade agreements it became member to, agricultural imports increased leading to growing annual trade deficits for agriculture.

For example, the importation of rice, the country’s staple, steadily increased and rice prices increased exponentially without going back to previous affordable levels. The graduated privatization of the National Food Authority (NFA) resulted to removal of NFA subsidies on rice procured by NFA, letting NFA rice assume commercial prices of rice in the market starting in December 2010.  The same is true for most of the country’s agricultural products including livestock and poultry products, condiments and vegetables.

Over the last three decades, the country is unable to produce enough rice for its growing consumption needs. Annual average rice productivity is 3.6 metric ton/hectare from 2000 to 2015 (3.5 MT from 1990 to 2015) or an annual average increase of 1.8MT. To be able to meet local consumption needs, the rice yield per hectare should be 5MT. Average growth in area planted is just 0.9% from 2000 to 2015 (1.1% from 1990 to 2015). Domestic production of rice increased annually at an average rate of only 2.79 percent from 2000 to 2015. Rice importation on the other hand grew by an average of 20.53%.

Low productivity is attributed to poor mechanization. The country has the lowest mechanization in Asia at 1.23 horsepower per hectare. Meanwhile, only around 53% of potential irrigable area has irrigation facilities. Still not all farms are provided ample irrigation or there is no irrigation service at all. Rice mills are also outmoded. Still, low productivity may also be attributed to the increasingly poor quality of soil in Philippine farms because of long term exposure to chemicals that diminished soil fertility and contribute to erosion of the top soil. Likewise, the loss of biodiversity. Soil degradation is aggravated by climate change which results to extreme weather conditions such as severe drought and longer periods of rains and stronger typhoons which in recent years devastated Philippine agriculture.

Promotion of chemical farming especially with the commercial propagation of genetically modified (GMO) crops such as GMO Corn, and impending commercial production of more GMO crops such as Bt Eggplant and Golden Rice further aggravates not only the loss of biodiversity but also compromise food safety and health of Filipinos. The continued commercial propagation of GMO corn and planned release of more GMO food crops is being done in the absence of a global scientific consensus on its safety, and without implementing the required post release impact evaluation of GMO crops in Philippine farms, biodiversity and health.

The viable alternative

Based on various researches, sustainable agriculture practices especially organic farming improve farmers’ livelihood and incomes from reduced dependence on expensive inorganic farm inputs including seeds, secures farming family’s food supply, helps in improving health and nutrition, and improves biodiversity and soil preservation. If seriously implemented on a large scale in Philippine farms, it can contribute in helping the Philippines achieve rice self-sufficiency and resolving malnutrition among Filipinos.

However the benefits of organic farming can only be maximized by Filipino farmers if genuine land reform is implemented. Likewise, it has to be complemented with a moratorium on agricultural land use conversion and crop conversion into plantations of export crops. Food production for local consumption must be the top priority of the government in the next five years. If developed, the country has the potential to be an exporter of its staple, rice including organic rice.