[Cordillera] Farmers are the frontliners in ensuring food security!

Statement by APIT TAKO

The enhanced community quarantine, imposed without first instituting proper mitigation measures, has further aggravated the misery of the Cordillera peasantry.

In the temperate vegetable producing provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, and Mountain Province, many farmers have lost their incomes because they were unable to market their produce due to the lockdowns imposed by the local government units in their respective areas. After the Luzon quarantine was announced on March 16, some were still able to harvest, but tons of their produce wilted while waiting to be accommodated in the trading centers in La Trinidad, Benguet and Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. Several farmers decided to give their produce away instead of having these rot.

On March 31 in Tinoc, Ifugao, local government officials announced a municipal lockdown that would start the next day. Fearing that farmers traveling to and from the La Trinidad and Bayombong trading centers would bring Covid 19 into their municipality, the officials imposed a total ban on the transport of vegetables from April 1 to 14. As a result, farmers hastily harvested their vegetables and brought these out of Tinoc in the evening of March 31. They arrived in La Trinidad in the wee hours of April 1 with an estimated 100,000 tons of vegetables which they had to dispose of quickly, even at low prices, so that they could return home on the same day.

Earlier, some Tinoc farmers were unable to deliver vegetables to their dealers in Bayombong because the municipality of Lamut, Ifugao, through which they had to pass, had been locked down. So they opted to just unload their produce along the road.

The vegetable farmers complained about the lockdowns. Responding to this, the municipal government of Tinoc has agreed to open its checkpoints from morning to noon daily, starting April 3. As long as vegetable transport vehicles are at the checkpoints by 12:30 p.m., they will be allowed to pass. Also, vegetable transport vehicles from Tinoc are now allowed passage through Lamut to Bayombong.

In Lower Kalinga, which accounts for about a third of the Cordillera’s rice and corn production, farms are now shorthanded because limitations have been imposed on the mobility of both farmers and agricultural workers. The shortage of farm labor has affected land preparation for the next crop of rice as well as the harvest of the current crop of corn.

Meanwhile, it has become difficult for farmers in Upper Kalinga to get their vegetables to market, even within their province, due to limited transportation.

The government has given its assurance that it will provide assistance to farmers affected by the enhanced community quarantine. It has promised to give P5,000 derived from its social amelioration funds and to extend a loan of P20,000 to each farmer. These are measly amounts when compared to current production expenses. In vegetable production, P25,000 would cover the expenses for only one cropping on only one-tenth of a hectare. In rice and corn production, expenses for one cropping on one hectare average about P50,000.

If not properly addressed, the situation of farmers in the Cordillera poses a serious threat to food security not only within the region but throughout the country. The region supplies 75% of the Philippines’ temperate vegetables. The Cordillera also accounts for 4% of the country’s corn and 2% of its rice supply.

In this light, APIT TAKO demands:

  1. Local government adherence to the national policy that allows unhampered transport of farm produce and supplies;
  2. Adequate financial support for farmers in the form of subsidies and not loans;
  3. Adequate relief assistance to agricultural workers;
  4. Free and massive Covid-19 testing for farmers, farm workers, farm produce transporters, and their families. They must be protected since they are the frontliners in ensuring food security!

APIT TAKO
Peasant sectoral formation within the multi-sectoral Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance
Regional chapter, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas

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