MANILA, Philippines—To emphasize the growing importance of family farming in Philippine agriculture, the government is now highlighting family farms as models of successful farming rather than large tracts of land that are “managed like a factory,” Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes said.
This year, beginning last May 26, the country observes the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF).
De los Reyes defined family farming as a farm owned and run by one family, with family members themselves working the land.
A plantation, on the other hand, is a “consolidated operation,” which may also be owned by a family but managed by a company.
(The Hacienda Luisita sugar estate in Tarlac province, which is owned by the Cojuangco family, is not a family farm, he said, because “it is operated by a corporation.”)
The typical farming family in the Philippine countryside consists of a father, a mother and three to four children who live on and off the land.
They till the soil, plant crops like rice, corn, sugarcane or coconut, harvest these with the help of neighbors, and deal with traders to sell their produce. Using only their hands and applying traditional methods of farming, they compete with mechanized, company-owned plantations.
It sounds like an underdog story without a happy ending, but there’s more to family farming than meets the eye, according to De los Reyes.
“It isn’t automatic that the bigger the farm, the more productive it is. Size by itself is not a determinant of productivity,” De los Reyes said in an interview.
Collective, successful farming
Consider this. A small family tending a tiny parcel of land will certainly not yield plenty. But if that family forms an organization with 10 or more small families, it can do wonders to their earnings as a whole, De los Reyes said.
A farming family, on its own, can only take out a loan for P30,000 or P40,000 from a bank (coursed through a trader who can provide the collateral) at a prohibitive interest rate.
“On the other hand, if 10 or 20 farming families band together, they can secure a loan for P800,000 at a lower interest rate because the cost to the bank is less,” De los Reyes said.
Furthermore, “family farms tend to make use of every inch of their land,” he said. “They need to make it produce to make the family, as much as possible, self-sufficient and also to create a surplus for the market.”
Support from government
The government, through the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Department of Agriculture, provides support to family farms in three ways.
The first is rural infrastructure in the form of irrigation facilities, roads, bridges and the like, all of which are meant to lower costs.
The second is through extension services, such as the provision of credit, farm machinery and training programs to increase yield.
The third is research and development to create new technology that will make life easier for farmers.
De los Reyes said the ideal family farm is not just a self-contained unit, but one that cooperates with other family farms “to consolidate operation, not necessarily to consolidate ownership” to achieve greater yield and income.
Based on figures from CountrySTAT, an online database on national food and agriculture statistics, there are some 12.09 million farmers in the Philippines, comprising 32 percent of the country’s workforce.
Rice workers, on average, earn P249.19 a day, while corn workers earn P189.56, the data showed.
De los Reyes said a “myth” in Philippine agriculture was that farming families lived only off the land. “Most of them are actually making a living on and off the farm. There will be members of the family who will go to the poblacion to be a tricycle driver, because their income from the farm is not enough,” he said.
In 2011, agriculture officials told a Senate budget hearing that the average age of the country’s farmers and fishermen was 57, and many of the farmers were small landholders, tilling an average of 2.5 hectares.
Data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics also showed that farming is not enough to support a family. A farmer’s average income is only about P20,000 a year.
De los Reyes said he considered the IYFF a great opportunity for the government to make life better for farming families.
“The IYFF is important to [us at the] DAR because aside from our mandate of distributing land to farmers, we are also tasked to provide agrarian justice to oppressed farmer-beneficiaries and to provide support services to boost farm[ing] families’ income,” he said.
“We want to be able to help our farmers achieve social justice, and the IYFF will help pave the way for policies and laws that are profarmers,” De los Reyes said.
He said the government was focused on addressing the concerns and supporting the long-term goals of farmers, particularly agrarian reform beneficiaries, by giving them access to credit, farm investment insurance and agricultural technology extension.
The theme of the IYFF is “Ang Family Farming ay Buhay (Family Farming is Life),” seeking to highlight the importance of farming families in food security and the protection of natural resources.
The celebration is also aimed at stimulating active policies for the development of farming families, indigenous farming families, cooperatives and fishing families.
Among the government’s partners in pushing family farming are civil society groups, including the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka, Philippine and Asian Partnership for the Development of Human Resource in Rural Areas, Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, and Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Developments.
“These civil society groups will greatly help us in drumbeating the issues concerning farming families and small-scale food producers,” De los Reyes said.
The IYFF was launched on Nov. 22, 2013, by the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization in New York to highlight the importance of farming families in food security and in protecting the environment.
It also seeks to strengthen the legitimacy of rural and farmers associations and to increase awareness of the importance of supporting family farming as a sustainable and effective way of producing food worldwide.