Farmers & Fisherfolk Leaders Summit in Siargo, Surigao del Norte

Maraming salamat sa imbitasyon upang ako ay maging bahagi ng inyong Farmers & Fisherfolk Leaders Summit. Masaya ako na makasama ang mga magsasaka, mangingisda at iba pang agriculture stakeholders dito sa Siargo, Surigao del Norte. Pati na rin ang mga taga local government units (LGUs) at mula sa private sector, to talk about one of my favorite topics  agricultural development as well as farmers and fisherfolks.

I commend the local and provincial government for putting together this summit for those involved in the agriculture sector. As most of you know, as the current chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, my ultimate goal is to improve the farmers and fisherfolk’s living conditions, because they remain among the poorest in our country.

I have been working hard in removing all the barriers that prevent them from being more competitive and successful. These are lack of technical expertise, inadequate access to cheap credit and lack of mechanization and financial literacy

As I cited earlier, ang Filipino farmers and fisherfolks ay nananatiling mahirap. By far, coconut farmers are the poorest. Considering that the Philippines is an agricultural country, hindi yata tama na manatili silang mahirap. We have to remedy that situation.

Agricultural workers are among the lowest paid. Last year, based on data, the average daily basic pay of wage and salary workers in the agriculture industry is 210.13 pesos compared to those in non-agriculture industry which receive 441.44 pesos. So, there is quite a discrepancy there. Ang mga coconut farmers ang pinakamahirap, earning only 50 pesos a day.

There are eight million crop farmers sa ating bansa, 3.5 million of them are coconut farmers and another 3.5 million are rice farmers. So, if we can improve their plight and lift them out of poverty, nasolusyonan na natin ang poverty problem ng ating bansa.

 

Increasing food production and farm productivity alone cannot move them permanently out of poverty. We must also teach small farmers capacity-building strategies and approaches to level up their knowledge and knowhow to help them to operate their small farms as agri-businesses.

But before they can become good entrepreneurs and businessmen, they need to be trained and educated first. That will remove the barriers of lack of technical expertise and financial literacy.

You’d be surprised to know that many of them do not even know how to apply for a simple loan. Kaya marami sa kanila ay pumapatol na sa 5-6 na pautang, na lalong nagpapahirap sa kanila. That is why I asked Land Bank and other government banks to perhaps have a special facility or area that will cater specially to small farmers’ financial requirements. Because even if the credit or financing was available, they do not know how to access it.

As a legislator, there is a conscious effort on my part also to make sure that my proposed bills in the Senate have a provision or component that will support training, education, mechanization, research and development.

These include the enactment into law of Republic Act (RA) 10848 or the act extending the period of implementation of the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund up to year 2022. You see, in 2010, ACEF loans and grants were stopped due to collection issues. ACEF was supposed to expire on December of 2015 and we successfully passed the extension of the ACEF law. ACEF can provide a level field in access to not only education and training, but opportunities to modernize and mechanize existing facilities or operations.

Eighty percent (80%) of the (ACEF) fund will be in the form of credit with minimal interest, which shall not exceed five million pesos per project loan to cooperatives; and maximum of one million pesos to small farmers. For the remainder of the fund of 20 percent—ten percent (10%) will be extended as grants for research and development (R&D) of agricultural and fishery products, and the commercialization of such, including the upgrading of research facilities, of qualified state universities and colleges (SUCs); and ten percent (10%) will be used for the funding of a comprehensive scholarship and attractive grant-in-aid program for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and veterinary medicine education, to be implemented by the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd).

Besides the ACEF law, in all the other bills I have authored for the fisheries, sugar and other agricultural sectors, that have been passed into law, I made sure that there is an allocation of adequate funds to provide for R&D and further education/training/improvement of farmers, fisherfolks and agricultural workers.

As the primary author of the Farm Tourism Development Law or Republic Act (RA) 10816, I also emphasized training and education under the law. It is provided there that the Agricultural Training Institute and TESDA “shall encourage farm tourism camps to become learning sites and accredited extension service providers, and the TESDA shall accredit farm tourism camps as technical vocational institutions for agriculture and tourism courses”.

I am also pleased to say that the passage of the farm tourism law has also paved the way for many smallholder farmers, who own a farm, however small it may be, to convert it into a farm tourism site. Many of them are now managing their farms as a business. It has become a win-win situation for them—they farm, they accept tourists or visitors to their farms and for those who have a school or learning site, they can also accept trainees/students. So, that’s three sources of income. And they do not even have to leave their farms.

Through further training and education also, farmers are learning new methods of doing things as well as new equipment to help them.

Coconut farmers for example, whom I have cited as among the poorest. They are now aware that by merely intercropping coconut with other crops such as coffee or cacao, they could earn PhP10,000 a month. Moreover, if they plant using the new variety of coconut seedlings, their nut harvest can triple from 40 nuts per tree to 150 nuts per tree.

As for the rice farmers, if they use the inbred seedlings of our Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), they can increase their production from  four metric tons per hectare (4MT/ha) to six metric tons (6MT/ha), which will make our country self-sufficient in rice. And it would also double the income of rice farmers.

Marami na rin ang nag-aalala dahil ang mga Pilipinong magsasaka ay tumatanda at matatanda na, with average age of between 58 and 60. Kaya we need the young generation to get involved. They should know that an increasing number of youngsters here and in other countries now consider farming as smart, cool and sexy. Farming is not anymore the stereotypical image of physically tilling or plowing the land.

There are a lot of exciting opportunities and untapped potential in the agriculture sector. At hangad natin na ang mga kabataan ay magiging bahagi niyan, that they will be the ones to tap into that potential.

Agri-entrepreneurship has also made agriculture more interesting for them. The young generation can go into agriculture-related businesses, kahit maliit lang. Remember, 95 percent ng mga negosyo sa ating bansa ay micro and small enterprises. At majority sa mga ito ay involved in food and beverage.

The government, LGUs, private sector and agricultural stakeholders can contribute a lot in realizing our collective goals for Filipino farmers and fisherfolks.  Kaya natutuwa ako sa suporta ng inyong gobyerno dito sa agriculture, lalo na sa mga magsasaka at mga mangingisda.

Hindi rin dapat iwanan at mapabayaan ang mga family farms dahil nakadepende sa mga ito ang ating future food security. According to United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO), family farms will be the ones feed the world, not the corporate farms. Over 70 percent of food consumed globally comes from small farmers.

Food security is everyone’s concern. Alam nyo ba na may forecast ang  UN FAO that by 2050 (32 years from now), there may not be enough food for the global population. By then, it would have reached nine billion. So, food production should increase by 70 percent. Ayaw naman natin lahat siguro magutom. Lalo na ang mga anak at apo natin, di ba?

The Philippines is an agricultural country and two-thirds of our population is directly or indirectly involved with agriculture—the sector is relevant to our country’s social and economic growth and sustainability. All of us should get involved, one way of the other, to ensure agricultural development. At ang susi dyan ay ang ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda, kaya tulungan natin sila.

Maraming salamat at mabuhay ang mga mga magsasaka at mangingisda!