[Day of the Landless] COVID-19 pandemic reveals necessity and urgency of genuine land reform

In commemoration of the International Day of the Landless, farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) insists that the COVID-19 pandemic has more clearly revealed the necessity of genuine land reform. “Ultimately, only genuine land reform can decisively resolve both the socio-economic vulnerability of millions of Filipino farmers and the food insecurity of the entire population,” KMP National Chairperson Danilo Ramos asserts.

“Millions of landless peasant families are first of all among the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease and the disruptive socioeconomic effects of the lockdown. As front liners of food security, the focus of farmers’ livelihood in ensuring sufficient food supplies for all and preventing mass hunger is also increasingly underscored as the struggle against the pandemic drags on. After immediate measures, only the free distribution of land to its tillers and the break-up of land monopoly can decisively solve this two-fold problem,” Ramos explains.

KMP points out that with or without a pandemic, landlessness has long bound the rural poor in hunger, undernutrition, and deprivation. The lack of access to food, dismal public health service, and lack of quick and reliable sources of information make millions of landless peasants among the most vulnerable to the pandemic. Ramos asserts that “as long as landlessness afflicts the countryside, tillers will remain susceptible to COVID-19 outbreaks.”

“The lockdown has worsened the hunger and poverty in far-flung sitios and barrios. Worse, in some areas, farmers do not even know about the Luzon lockdown or Enhanced Community Quarantine enforced until April 12. What is evident to farmers is that the absence of public transportation, curfews, and checkpoints are affecting their farming activities and the conduct of their rural work,” says Danilo Ramos, chairperson of KMP.

In Barangay San Agustin in Libon, Albay, elderly farmer Bibi Santos walked 3 kilometers along the highway to harvest water spinach (kangkong) from her farm for her family’s consumption. Strict curfew times and checkpoints are also enforced, limiting farmers’ movements. “Kung nasa kabilang barrio or sitio ang sakahan ng mga magsasaka, may mga dadaanan pang checkpoints at hanggang alas-5 lang dapat nakabalik na sa bahay. Apektado ang pagsasaka at kabuhayan,” says Ramos. 

KMP also joined 119 organizations from 30 countries in a joint statement for the Day of the Landless calling for the upholding of peasants’ land rights globally. Their calls are the following:

  1. Ensure that the lockdowns and quarantines are not carried out at the expense of the food security of the people, and that the right to produce and earn a living for small farmers, fishers and other direct food producers is duly respected;
  2. Provide immediate and substantial economic relief (including food grains, cash, and other forms of aid that are essential and appropriate) and social protection that are readily accessible to the marginalized sectors, including the landless rural people, as well as other forms of government assistance such as production and marketing support for the small food producers;
  3. Ensure that no further displacements of the rural people from their lands and livelihood are carried out in the pretext of COVID-19 lockdowns;
  4. Allot sufficient public resources to the health sector and make reliable public healthcare services, including free testing for COVID-19 infection and treatment, available without delay or difficulty for everyone, including the rural communities; and
  5. Call for accountability of public officials at all levels in addressing the urgent needs of the people and in respecting human rights at all times.

The farmers group also reiterated calls for urgent assistance to farmers in the form of emergency cash assistance, production support and subsidies and provision of health services in rural villages. ###

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