Opinion: COVID-19 and Food (In)security

June 17, 2020

by MASIPAG National Office

By: Leo XL Y. Fuentes, Jr., Coordinator, MASIPAG Mindanao
Originally published at davaotoday.com 05/15/2020

Another time bomb ticking before us in this COVID-19 pandemic is our food supply. There is looming hunger as our agricultural system remains unsustainable, with its being export-oriented and import-dependent. The Department of Agriculture Secretary is pacifying us with the assurance of sufficient food supply, but on the other hand, it desperately called for Plant! Plant! Plant! among farmers that targets the ancestral lands of our Indigenous People. It is timely now to review, re-think, and re-design our food system.

Export-oriented and import-dependent agriculture

Our export-oriented agriculture can be traced back to the hacienda system imposed by the Spanish colonizers to meet the demand for hemp, tobacco, and sugar of the booming Manila-Acapulco trade.

During the American colonial period, some haciendas were converted into big agricultural plantations of pineapples and banana, but this is still for exports to other countries.

After decades of peasant struggles ranging from legal battles to meta-legal means and of course the agrarian revolution, portions of land were liberated and cultivated by small farmers.

However, the dominant system continues and even became more systematic.

One of this is the Agri-Ventures Agreements (AVAs) of big plantation crops resulting in the dramatic decline of lands producing food for local consumption. In Davao del Norte for example, the research of Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) on Mindanao plantations said the decline of land was noted that between the late 1980s and early 90s, as the land area for rice is about 60,000-80,000 hectares and for corn about 151,000 to 158,000 hectares. At present, there are only 28,375 hectares planted with rice while 16, 082 planted with corn.

It’s no debate that the land area for local food crops was severely affected by the expansion of agribusiness plantations through unhampered crop conversion.

On the other hand, we mainly rely on imports. Take for instance our staple food rice. The Duterte administration ratified the Rice Liberalization Law resulting in unparalleled rice importation. But now, our ASEAN neighbors Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia are tightening their rice exportation as they brace for drought and heightening geopolitical struggles with China with regard to water sources such as the Mekong delta.

This is the norm nowadays, a very unsustainable and highly food insecure food system. A picture of a globalized food system, a perfect picture of capitalist catastrophe on food and agriculture.

The new normal

Now is the time we must deviate from such norms, create and re-design the new normal food system that is based on principles of self-reliance and sustainable agriculture.

Our network MASIPAG (Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-Unlad ng Agrikultura) advocates the 6-Point Food Security Agenda amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as follows:

1. Inclusive Community Health Protocol.

2. Fair and Just Economic Relief, and Agricultural Aid, not Loans.

3. Put an end to anti-farmer policies such as land and crop conversion, suspension, or repeal of rice liberalization law.

4. Promotion of Farmer-Centered Programs by allowing farm-workers and tenants in Haciendas to till land for food security, fair price, and incentives for farmers produce.

5. Empowering Local Markets like Talipapa, as it promotes economic activities it will also decongest big markets in urban centers like the Bankerohan Market here in Davao City.

6. Promotion of Agroecology as the new normal.

To put it simply in order to secure our food, there is a need to de-globalize and re-localize our food system now.