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Addressing Farmer’s Income

A friend of mine who is an erudite and astute agriculturist lamented that issues besetting the agri-horizon are still the same as when he was still at UPLB many decades ago.

And whenever we have a discussion on the state of agri in our country, we both agree that the major factor of success is the “affordability” level of farmer’s expenditures as related to the world outside the farm gate.

Stereotyping of farmers in various state or condition to me is a result of the “non-affordability” factor on the farmer side. Statements like “farmers are poor because they are lazy or they choose to go to a cockfight and gamble rather than attend to farming needs, etc.” abound when discussing the present state of farming. The “poor” or “small” adjectives are used when putting an image of the Filipino farmer.

Farming should be a profitable venture. Agriproducers should be given a respectable return on their investment – capital, labor and land or resource use.

I have always taken the position that our farmers are willing to rise up to the challenge of producing more if they are properly motivated.

I am reminded of the project taken by farmers in South Cotabato in producing large size ginger years ago as they were assured a market in Japan. Or the effort made by farmers in Quezon province to produce a type of lemon that were supposed to be in great demand. Both enterprises miserably failed as the market demand for the produce fizzled out.

This can also be said of the local corn industry. With our vast semi-flat lands, in addition to what can be made available from flat arable lands, for corn production, there should be no reason why we cannot be self-sufficient in corn- be it white or yellow.

Farmers in Central Luzon, specifically Pampanga, Tarlac and Pangasinan areas had demonstrated that they can double, if not triple their volume, given the right motivation. Tarlac, which was never known as a corn producing province, had notched production volume never been seen in the records of the agri-office. And the conversion of the once-tobacco-land into corn areas pushed volume into new heights.

And for a while, yellow corn, backed with high local demand, was being produced all throughout the year in Pampanga.

However, opening of importation of yellow corn or its substitutes dampened the enthusiasm of corn producers. The issue of balancing the interest of yellow corn users, that is, the feedmills and the poultry integrators (with pricing of meat products in mind, making meat products affordable to the mass consumers), with that of the income level of corn producers will come up the scale.

This is also true with palay farming. Prices of rice has reminded more or less stable over the years, to the detriment of the rice farming sector, and to the benefit of consumers.

One area where the government can focus its policy directing energies would through the provision of infrastructures or processes that reduces the cost of farming or doing business for agri-producers.

The introduction of the RORO transport system is a big boost to the farming sector where it is now possible to access markets at reduced cost.

The continued road and bridge improvement programs is also a good starting point for the creation of a competitive environment that can boost income levels of farmers.

The opening of a Philippine fruit and vegetable market in Guandong, China can go a long way in our effort to create more access to previously untapped markets. This will enable our local producers to benchmark against competition and gauge their effectiveness in competing in a foreign market- with our produce being sold side by side with local and other imported produce.

And there is now also a continuous talk about clustering production areas within the agri-officialdom.

This is one avenue that can really touch and influence income or the bottom line of farmer’s endeavors. But then again, targeted farmer groups should undertake the necessary social preparation to impart the value of working together- as in cooperatives or farmers’ associations.

A comprehensive and holistic approach is needed to make this work as can be seen in the degree of success of cooperatives in the countryside. The tendency of doing things alone or keeping things within one’s self or family is heavily ingrained in our culture that achieving high degree of cooperation is hard to come by.

There are many good things about clustering that addresses the cost of doing business for farmers. Clustering requires a certain inertia or mass to make it moving.

In effect, the increase in income of farmers will come from the improvement of internal cost (brought about by improve business environment), rather than from increased price as this is generally met with stiff resistance, as in the case of corn prices. This has to be addressed by government.

High domestic corn prices is the very tool that corn users-feedmillers, poultry and livestock integrators- are banding about whenever they ask government to grant them importation privileges. (And high corn prices is where the increased income to corn farmers come from.) Indeed, this is an irony in the local agri-scenario.

Who would ever think that the highest official of the Department of Agriculture will be sacked for failing to stop the increasing price of palay during his term?

Hopefully, people in the agri-bureaucracy had seen the light from this incident and would know how to put their best foot forward to benefit the farming community as it struggles for higher levels of income.