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According to the Convention of Biology, the Philippines is one of the 18 mega-diverse countries in the world. On a per unit area basis, we harbor more diversity of life than most countries do. In fact, the Philippines ranks fifth in the number of plant species and maintains 5% of the world’s flora. However, out of the three economic sectors – services, industry, and agriculture – our agricultural sector struggles the most.
It faces the most challenges ranging from small to no return of investment, little support from the government and other relevant sectors, climate change, corruption, and crippling debt. Farmers are the vital for the survival and development of the agricultural sector, yet farrmers face an aggressive cycle of debt where they’re taken advantage by traders. According to a Rachel de Villa, the cofounder of Cropital, the first crowdfunding platform supporting Filipino farmers, “Farmers live in debt, paying high-interest rates, sometimes 50% per month… Sometimes they have no choice but to accept these kinds of terms that eventually eat up their income. They’re also taken advantage of by traders – you know, the middle-man who buys their produce for one cent and they’ll sell it for $1 or P65 so they get all the profits.”
Furthermore, the Philippines is one of the five most disaster countries in the world, experiencing over 20 typhoons every year. Too poor to invest on defenses against it, typhoons can wipe a whole field of harvest which leads them both destitute and desperate. As put by Senator Francis 'Kiko' Pangilinan, “Being a farmer is like being a priest; you take a vow of poverty and make a pact with the lord that no typhoon will come and destroy your crops.”
Hence, farmers have to borrow money from the traders and remain in their debt. Unable to pay it, the debt only continues to increase. Additionally, farmers feel the impact of corruption heavier than people with average income do. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority released last June 30, 2017, among the nine basic sectors, farmers are one of the highest poverty incidences with a record of 34.3% and have consistently registered as one of the three sectors with the highest poverty incidence last 2006, 2009, and 2012. That same month, the executives of the Department of Agriculture Constancio Maghanoy, Jr. (Regional Executive Director) along with the Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) officials Isagani Basco (Chairman), Alma Mahinay (vice-chairperson), Alfredo Cayabyab, Rafael Mercado, Larry Pineda, Herna Palma, Rosalinda Mediano, Melani Provido, Isabelita Buduan, Lelisa Lascuña and Marie Ann Constantino were accused of graft and corruption.
There is also the notorious coconut farmers’ issue under former President Marcos’ regime. Nearly P9.8 billion was collected from coconut farmers during 1971 to 1983. As of right now, all those coco levies are estimated to be worth P93 billion and the coconut farmers haven’t received the justice they ought to have. Due to all of these issues, the children of farmers strive to create a better life for themselves, their parents, and their grandparents before them which makes the average age of Filipino farmers 57-59. The government indirectly encourages this due to the growing urbanization in the Philippines and the revival of many industries like manufacturing which attracts many youths from the agricultural communities.
The solution to the crisis of the critical shortage of farmers is to make farming a productive and profitable career and not just maintaining a large amount of farmers. We need to invest on the health of farmers and arm them, along with potential farmers, with financial and business literacy. They should be equipped with the necessary knowledge, skills, and technologies to fight against the problems provided by both natural disasters and human greed.
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