Farming communities in the plains of Kalinga are harvesting and dryin their harvests of commercial rice and Bt corn (genetically modified organism). Harvest season is a time of joy and thanksgiving for farmers. It is a time to account their hard labor. The accounting however is usually painful when farmers are confronted with the reality that their harvest is not good enought to pay what they have already spent during the time that they are waiting for harvest season. An increasing number end up with a negative balance especially if they incurred debt, a chronic cycle in the life of farmers where production costs are high and the price of farmer’s produce is low.
A hectare of rice usually obtains a harvest of 100-120 sacks of palay with 50 kilograms per sack which will become only 90-100 kilos after drying. The gross income range from P60,000 to P77,000 with the prevailing rates of P14-17 per kilo depending on the class of the palay that is determined by the buyer-trader. The last class of rice (usually those that were soaked or did not dry well) even fetches a price of P7 to P9 per kilo. The average cost of production per hectare is P40,000, much of it goes to seeds and chemical inputs. If the farmer got P60,000, the family should not have exceeded P4,900 per month for their family expense in the 5-month period of production. If she got P77,000 for her harvest, her family should not have spent over P8,300 per month in the 5-month production period. Family members range from 5-7 members. The net income from the rice harvest will just be enough for the family’s basic food supply. Expenses for schooling, medical costs and other emergencies are covered by debts with interest rates from 5-10% or even more. The woman farmer is always full of remedies from tending corn fileds simultaneous with rice, planting vegetables or fruits to sell or for family consumption, engage in daily or group farm labor and raise domestic animals. Still such remedies are short in meeting a modest cost of living of a poor or ordinary peasant family.
Women corn farmers have a similar story. A family of a corn farmer harvests about 120-130 sacks of corn at 77 kilograms per sack for a 5-month production period. The cost of production is about P48,870 that goes to seeds, chemical inputs and labor. After drying, the corn will only be 90 sacks at 77 kgs. Per sack which is worth P86,625 for P12.50 per kilo. The net income is P37,755 for a land owner which the family already spent while waiting for harvest season. The family should not be spending beyond P7,500 per month else the family will be buried in the cycle of debt. It is even worse for landless families who give 1/3 of their harvest to the landowner.
The case of farmers in commercial rice and corn production is a not a suffering by mistake. It is a systemic error in a production system of which farmers are not in control. It is a crucifixion by those in power who care not for the main food producers but care most for the profit takers.
Food sovereignty, access to land and resources are priority issues pushed by the farmer’s and indigenous peoples’ constituencies in the Asia Pacific civil society forum on sustainable development 2016 in asserting people’s priorites to achieve development justice. This is in line with the UN 2030 sustainable goals, a replacement of the Millenium Development Goals (MDG), which serve to guide the development programs and policies of governments and other development agencies the world over from 2016 to 2030. This was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 consisting of 17 goals and 168 indicators that woold leave no one behind in resolving global poverty and inequalities.
A reality check on the 17 goals shows a big disconnect with the priorities of the people such as securing the food, ensuring just and sustainable production and acces to land and resources for poor farmers and indigenous peoples.
With the purpose of influencing the UN sustainable development goals, Asia Pacific civil society organizations came up with the development justice framework in 2013. The framework consisted of five foundational shifts of redistributive justice, economic justice, social and gender justice, environemntal justice and accountability to peoples, all aimed at reducing inequalities between the North and South, between the rich and the poor and between men and women. Members of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Developments and People’s Goals Campaign did a hard work in advocating this transformative agenda yet governments chose to reinvent a neoliberal develoment agenda that deepen further poverty and inequalities being profit-oriented and business as usual.
The women farmers in Kalinga cannot just wait for something better to come. For now as the national elections is approaching, they will rise to pursue their agenda on food security and environment sustainability with policitians seeking for public office. For now they will continue to build their strength along with other farmer’s organizations in building a farming production system that they will be more control of. # nordis.net