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EDITORIAL: Let’s Not Train Farmers in Farming, Train Filipinos in Changing Attitudes Toward Farmers

In the Philippines, an estimated 2.5 million families are involved in marginal rice farming. They are reputed to be the pillars of food security, but 34.3% of them are statistically poor. Meanwhile, our policies and program interventions are traditionally focused on developing the capabilities of farmers to produce more food to feed the non-food-producing population. Our position is extraordinary because it runs against the existing objectives of our government interventions.

Do not focus on training farmers in farming. Nothing changed their lives following this strategy. Production capability training of farmers has been going on for decades and even centuries but it did not solve farm poverty – because poverty do not lie in the technical capability but in the perception of society that affects public and private policies. This is a result of our negative attitude towards agricultural workers. We look at them as wretched members of our society, hence the kind and nature of economic opportunities that we to open them. We must focus on changing our attitude and perception. We must address our programs to society and not to our farmers. We must show the world that we have capacity enhancement training program for farmers that is competitive of with the formal training of non-farmers – then we can change the way people think of farmers.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte passed Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tarification Law (RTL) on March 5, 2019. The law created the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) to improve the competitiveness of rice farmers and increase their incomes. The RTL ensures that farmers directly benefit from the liberalization of rice importation by providing at least P10 billion a year to the RCEF up to 2024. The RTL was also designed to protect the consumers from high prices by lifting quantitative rice importation to fill the short supply but increasing demand for rice in the local markets. The law provided that the NFA should focus only on emergency buffer stocking that will be sourced solely from local farmers

The rice farming policy seems to be right in harmonizing the interests of stakeholders. But again, it fails to recognize development management principles that ill the sector: centralized policy-making, shrinking farming areas, unstable production, the slow movement of money, social stigma, misplaced government support, and non-applicability of supply and demand theory. Reports show that rice farmers absorbed the average costs of production of P47/ha. The hidden fact is that the computation of the production cost does not include the labor of the farmers and their families. Meanwhile, the average price of 1kg of white rice in Manila is P52 a cause of complaints from consumers.

Something is wrong somewhere. Is it with our farmers? Is it in our education and capability training programs? Is it in our policies? Who makes our policies? What influences the thinking of our policy-makers? How do we change our attitude and enhance our respect to the people who feed us?

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