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Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan delivers the Keynote Speech in A-PAD Philippines International Symposium 2017, with the theme, “Strengthening Partnerships in Communities: Making Disaster Resiliency of Vulnerable Sectors A Priority”, on January 24, 2017 at The Heritage Hotel Manila, Philippines.
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Good morning everyone,
Welcome to our visitors, host countries, namely Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Korea and Japan, our kababayans from the cities of Tuguegarao, Naga, Surigao and Davao, provinces of Cebu, Bohol, Isabela, Dinagat Island, Camarines Sur, Zamboanga del Sur and South Cotabato, and from the regions of Bicol, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas and Mindanao.
After being chairman of the Senate of Agriculture Committee for almost two years, I took up farming in 2012. I will not completely understand the life of our farmers unless I do farming. When I step down at the Senate in 2013, I went full time as a farmer. After a year, I went back as Presidential Assistant for Food Security. My first month in returning to the government, I said, I missed farming.
When I was a farmer, I experienced the devastation of typhoons and the torrential rains that our farmers and fisher folks have to go through. Our farm is in Alfonzo, Cavite, where we plant and harvest variety of organic vegetables. Our main crop is lettuce and herbs. In my small planted area, we can produce, on good weather, around 1.3 into 1.5 tons of organic lettuce. We also have native pigs.
As a private citizen then, I dedicated my life in managing the farm and attending to its day to day tasks. In August 2013, the farm was hit with torrential rains, 10 days of non-stop rains, which segued into a typhoon. From an average harvest of 1.5 tons per month, I was down to 45 kilos. The following year, in 2014, Typhoon Glenda came, we were hit in Alfonzo, Cavite. Around 500 of our banana plants were destroyed and uprooted. Two of our three green houses were damaged and destroyed. We lost 95% of our crops. I realized exactly what our farmers had to go through every year. I respect our farmers for what they have go through. It was heartbreaking and extremely difficult yet farmers would pick-up the pieces and stand-up again. The farmers in the Philippines, unfortunately, are not loved back. It is a tragedy that our farmers are the most vulnerable to disaster. They are also the poorest, in terms of economic status. It is unjust that those who feed us cannot feed themselves and their families. Truly, climate change and disaster preparedness are critical. If we are to address food sufficiency and food security, we need to address the vicious cycle of poverty that our farmers and fisher folks face.
Truly, a farmer has to go through so much. We calculated the time we were hit by the typhoon up to the time we were able to normalize our operations. It was almost 4 months. The challenge here is when the most vulnerable sectors were hit. What interventions are needed immediately so that the vulnerable farmers and fisher folks can go back to agriculture or to fishing? The challenge is how do we give them full support so that they can quickly get back on their feet, plant and harvest, and continue to earn.
We also had experienced pests, experienced of lack of water during summer. These are all the challenges of farming and fisher folks have to go through. Without active intervention and active support, our farmers will remain poor.
In the Philippine setting, the average income of our farmers is around 23,000 pesos a year from agriculture. The average age is 54-55 years old and the average educational attainment is grade 4. The average farm size is 1.5 hectares. When farming faces calamity, this is a sure equation for a vicious cycle. This is relative to the issue of having very few next generation Filipinos who would want to go into farming. We have to ensure that there are enough interventions that famers might need.
In legislation, we have filed two measures which, we believe, will help address the vulnerable sectors in agriculture, one of which is the coconut lending trust fund measure. The Filipino coconut farmer is the poorest of all farmers in the country, earning lower than the national average of 50 pesos a day or 15 thousand pesos a year. Therefore, in legislation, we hope to use the current 76 billion pesos coco levy funds that is in the national treasury. If you add the assets, non-cash assets, the coco levy fund cash and assets, it will amount to something over a hundred billion. We are putting this in place so that we may provide value added to coco enterprise development, capacity building for our coconut farmers, and include support for inter cropping.
80% of the farmers, coconut farmers, are into mono-crop. When you are hit by a typhoon and you have only one crop, you are more vulnerable. Farmers can adapt a diverse multi-cropping set up to reduce the risks. Our story, which I have shared earlier, is a case in point. We lost 500 banana trees in the farm because of typhoon Glenda. But, we also have coffee tree in the farm. We did not lose not even one coffee tree because it is more resilient, more capable of confronting strong typhoons. Crop diversity is a measure that can reduce the risk of losing the whole source. We intend to do this for our coconut farmers.
We also have another measure called Farm Enterprise Management and Development Act. This is a strategy that can stray away from subsistence farming, and move towards farm enterprise management and development for our farmers, build capacity, aggregating farmlands, providing economy subscale, providing access to the markets, providing access to credit.
For access to the markets, we will mandate the national and local governments to allocate a portion of their development fund. With this, they can purchase directly from accredited farmers organizations and enterprises going around or extending them from the procurement law. The farmers should have direct access to the markets and not be worried about being in the stranglehold of the middlemen. The farmers have difficulty accessing to the markets that they have to rely on the middlemen to sell their produce. The Act hopes to address this issue. Also, we could provide incentives for the private sector to purchase directly from farmers’ organizations and farmers enterprises. The fast-food chains purchase agricultural produce. They buy chicken, tomatoes, onions etc. The government can provide incentives when these conglomerates purchase directly from farmers’ organizations. The food businesses can have the opportunity to deduct portion of agricultural purchases from their corporate income tax.
Also, if conglomerates donate infrastructures, a portion of the amount can be deducted from the corporate income tax, and thereby, channeling capital to farm enterprises and fisherfolks’ organizations. This is an opportunity to build in capacity. We’ve done this when I was chairman of the Senate Committee of Agriculture from 2010-2013. We were providing support for farmers’ enterprises and organizations. This led to doubling of farmers’ incomes after a couple of years. In particular, the tie up between Nestlé Philippines and coffee farmers, and between the Jollibee Foundation and onion farmers. When Jollibee partnered with the farmers organization for planting onions in Nueva Ecija, their first yield were 60 tons in 2008. By 2015, they were already harvesting 500 tons of onions. I believe the key in partnerships among the private sector and government, and the farmers and fisherfolks’ organizations can be in a form of channeling capital, building capacity, building organizational capacity. These measures can help farmers be more resilient. Farmers’ ability to deal with disasters can increase. Ultimately, if we are to secure our food and if we are to secure the vulnerable, we have to secure our farmers.
In the Philippines, the huge poverty population is in the rural areas. The main source of livelihood is agriculture proficiency. To address poverty and prioritize the vulnerable, we must develop and improve farming, agriculture, as well as, farm enterprise management. I congratulate the organizers of this activity, thank you for this opportunity, the Philippines is a disaster-prone country and yet, we have every opportunity to rise again. We will not go to one corner and weep. We will stand again. We will plant again. We will harvest again. We will move forward. With partnerships from the private sector and the government, I’m sure the future will be better.
A pleasant good morning to everyone and Maraming Salamat.