AGHAM Advocates of Science and Technology for the People decries Senator Cynthia Villar’s recent pronouncement regarding land conversion as one that reeks of arrogance and ignorance on Philippine agriculture. But this is expected from someone whose family business involves converting lands into commercial and residential use.
While we need lands for factories and residential use, one of the main drivers of food insecurity in the Philippines is the conversion of prime agricultural land into commercial and industrial use.
Based on the Department of Agrarian Reform data, 97,592.5 hectares of agricultural land were converted into non-agricultural uses during 1988 to 2016. When devoted to rice production, this massive land area could have assured the national inventory with 19,518.5 tons of rice, which could have minimized our reliance on imports.
Food security has become more critical during this pandemic when countries like Vietnam are prioritizing their local needs for rice over exporting.
It is not true, as Senator Villar claims, that the only way to improve farm production is through technological improvements like mechanization and good seeds. Without land and water, agricultural production is impossible.
As far as the comparison Senator Villar made to Israel is concerned, our two countries are not comparable. The middle eastern country has a national agricultural policy that heavily subsidizes their production. Meanwhile, the Philippines has opened up its market to import staple commodities like rice while reducing protections for local production.
Villar’s defense that housing and employment are also of great concern and that food security is a separate issue is a lame argument. While all three are essential, it is the responsibility of public officials like her that the basic needs and rights of the people, such as food, shelter, and livelihood, are given equal importance.
We believe that food security and rural development concerns must be addressed based on the people’s aspirations, instead of a profit-driven scheme. This entails implementing a genuine agrarian reform program and a national industrialization plan that can address all the basic needs of the Filipinos. This way, we won’t need to sacrifice one over the other.
Photo: CNN Philippines