Members of the Agroecology X Network, together with Bantay Bigas, Amihan, and Masipag, held the Rice Stakeholders Workshop last April 12, 2021. The sixth in a series of food systems workshops under the National Peoples’ Food Systems Summit, this sectoral workshop tackled the state, challenges, and prospects of the rice industry in the Philippines.
The online workshop had diverse participants from farmers, farmworkers, consumers, scientists, rice millers and retailers, policymakers, and advocates. This sectoral workshop is part of the nationwide effort to know the plight of the different sectors in food production and build resolutions that will be included in the final manifesto for the upcoming National People's Food Systems Summit 2021.
Among the speakers were former Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary and KMP Chairman Emeritus Rafael Mariano, Cathy Estavillo of Bantay Bigas, Cris Pañero of Masipag, Eng. Ronald Garcia of AGHAM Food Security and Self-Sufficiency, Mimi Domingo of Kadamay, and Miriam Villanueva of KASAMA-LR.
Lester Gueta of Agroecology X discussed the network’s critique of the United Nations’ Food Systems Summit as well as the Philippine government’s National Food Security Summit. Gueta said that both summits are set to push for more neoliberal policies on food and agriculture, policies of the same framework which plunged the world into worse hunger in the first place. As a response, Agroecology X is organizing a parallel national summit to drum up public awareness and support towards agroecological initiatives and towards a genuinely pro-people food system.
Mariano discussed the current global food situation and trends. Mariano said that according to the 2020 Global Report on Food Crisis, 120 million are considered acutely food insecure people across 55 countries. He remarked that to address the food crisis, the government should promote food self-sufficiency by supporting local food producers. He said this can only be done by dismantling neoliberal policies, breaking ties with the World Trade Organization, and ensuring a trade policy on the basis of equality, reciprocity, mutual benefit, and national interest.
The national rice situation was discussed by Estavillo. According to her, it is ironic that the Philippines became the top net importer of rice despite being one of the top ten rice-producing countries in the world. She said that landlessness, feudal and semi-feudal exploitation, neoliberal policies, and state-sponsored attacks exacerbate the rice crisis and push rice farmers to the brink of bankruptcy. Estavillo exclaimed that rice self-sufficiency would only be attained through the enactment of pro-farmer policies such as the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill and Rice Industry Development Act.
Rice farmers from different provinces shared their experiences. Edgar Flores of the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) in Nueva Ecija said there are virtually no irrigation services in their community. Flores appealed to the government to fulfill their mandate as public servants and provide adequate aid to farmers and farmworkers. Meanwhile, Jennifer Gameng of the Samahan ng mga Manggagawang Bukid (DAGAMI) in Isabela said COVID-19 lockdown measures such as mobility restriction and absence of sufficient aid make life harder for farmworkers in their province.
Pañero discussed the repercussions of corporate control on agriculture. He said four companies have a monopoly control on seeds and agrochemicals industry. The corporate capture of agriculture has significant consequences on our food self-sufficiency and food sovereignty. Pañero exclaimed that there are feasible, sustainable, and equitable alternatives through farmer-led farming and breeding practices.
The significance of agricultural mechanization was discussed by Eng. Garcia. He said that a way to achieve food security is by increasing land and labor productivity through mechanization. Eng. Garcia pointed out that the government should ensure that agricultural mechanization will not prompt labor displacement in the countryside, as other countries’ experiences have shown that job security can be ensured in the face of agricultural mechanization.
Cacha discussed the value chain of rice from a miller’s perspective. She said that unscrupulous rice importation as a result of the Rice Liberalization Law hurts not only farmers but also stakeholders in the miller industry.
Manuntag discussed the perspectives of stakeholders from the marketing and retailing side of the rice value chain. As a retailer, Manuntag said competition in the industry heightened with the flooding of imported rice in the market. However, he said that prices remain high despite the presence of imported rice, contrary to the promise of the Rice Liberalization Law.
Mimi Domingo expressed her solidarity with the peasant sector, as urban poor communities are also victims of neoliberal policies by the government. From a consumer’s perspective, Domingo said they also feel the burden of rice liberalization. She forwarded the call of the urban poor for pro-people policies such as genuine agrarian reform, national industrialization, decent housing, and respect for human rights.
Villanueva shared the lessons and success stories behind the land occupation campaign of KASAMA-LR in Dasmariñas, Cavite where farmers militantly assert their right to the land they till by collectively cultivating the land through sustainable farming practices.
After the presentations from various stakeholders, the participants discussed their demands and recommendations that will be forwarded to the National Food Security Summit.
In closing, Burly Mango of PNFSP reiterated the people’s demand to junk Rice Liberalization Law, ensure adequate, safe, accessible, and affordable food for all, strengthen the local rice industry, fight for a self-reliant and self-sufficient food system, support local food production, oppose corporate capture of food systems, and fight for genuine agrarian reform. #