Commentary: The woes of corn farmers in Ifugao

By BRANDON LEE
www.nordis.net

Corn production is one of the main livelihoods of Ifugao Farmers. Due to poor government irrigation services, unirrigated and idle lands are turned into corn production farms since it doesn’t need much water to maintain. However, a farmer must invest in high prices of farm inputs such as hybrid or GMO seeds, weedicides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers.

Farmers have to increase the quantity of farm inputs with each new cropping since farm inputs make the soil acidic. In a normal cropping, a farmer must spend around 15-20 thousand pesos for a hectare for four (4) to five (5) months of corn production which doesn’t include the farmer’s time and labor.  Most corn farmers survive by borrowing from middle-men for the current and future cropping. The middle men profit from usury or high interests on loans collected from the corn farmers.

After harvesting, every corn farmer prays for two things – a sunny day to dry the corn kernel, and a good and fair buying price of his produce.  One of the most important resources for Corn farmers is the sun which they need to dry corn.  The Ifugao rainy season, which starts in July and lasts until December, makes drying corn difficult due to the lack of sunlight. If the corn does not dry properly, the quality of the corn diminishes.

The buyers classify the quality of the corn based on its appearance, moisture content, and if it was freshly harvested.  Corn that has been sundried for a few days is classified as skin dried.  Corn that has been dried completely is classified ready to mill.  Each category is further sub-categorized into class A, B, and C depending on grain quality. When the quality of the corn diminishes, the buyers purchase the corn at a lower price.  Sun drying remains the most common drying method in Ifugao despite the long-time clamor of peasant corn producers to have a mechanized corn dryer to insure and maintain the quality of their corn which would then ensure higher compensation for their hard labor. 

How can Ifugao corn farmers compete with other industrialized ASEAN countries that are highly subsidized and mechanized while also suffering from the exploitation of the middle men?  The ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) which opened the market of south east Asia threatens the corn farmers’ income.  Due to poverty, the majority of Filipinos often buy imported cheaper commodities like corn. Major socio-economic reforms are needed to help our farmers.  Continuing the peace talks would have introduced those needed reforms to be signed in agreement by both GRP and NDFP parties. Unfortunately, President Duterte canceled the peace talks and chose to ignore the plight of our farmers. # nordis.net

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