Davao City – Inspired by the courage and determination of the small-scale farmers, especially the Lumads, the participants of the 9th MASIPAG General Assembly strengthened their resolve to push for a just society where farmers and indigenous peoples can genuinely exercise their rights to food, livelihood and self-determination.
Farmers from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao gathered in the Tugbok District in Davao City for the General Assembly (GA) with the theme “Sulong MASIPAG! Sama-samang harapin ang pagbabago ng panahon sa pagkamit ng makatarungan at maunlad na lipunan” (“Onward MASIPAG! Collectively Confront the Challenges of Climate Change and Push for Justice and Genuine Development in Our Society”). Discussions on the important issues faced by small-scale farmers such as climate change and increased corporate control on agriculture were held, as well as workshops on how farmers can address these issues through sustainable farming practices and advocacies.
Various organizational matters were also settled during the GA, including the election of a new set of Board of Trustees (BOT).
Facing Climate Change
Prior to the GA proper, a conference was held at Ateneo De Davao University to discuss the various measures that small-scale farmers can undertake to build resilience against the effects of climate change. More than 200 farmers, members of the academe and development organizations who attended the said conference agreed that agroecological practices such as farmer –saved seeds, indigenous knowledge, bayanihan (communal work) and education are proven to be practical, low cost and sustainable in ensuring food amidst the changing climate.
“MASIPAG has been supporting and developing sustainable agriculture practices to help farmers cope with the changing climate,” said Dr. Chito Medina, National Coordinator of MASIPG. “For 30 years, we have collected more than 1,000 traditional rice varieties, and a thousand more MASIPAG and farmer-bred varieties which are then selected or used as parent materials for breeding rice varieties that will suit their needs. Thru this practice of farmer-led breeding and selection, MASIPAG farmers has identified more than 70 types of climate change resilient varieties that can withstand drought, flooding and saltwater intrusion and pests.”
Apart from climate change resilient seeds that can lessen the impacts of climate change, MASIPAG farmers are also encouraging other farmers to diversify their crops and integrate the different farm components to make their farm sustainable and resilient to the changing climate.
Dr Medina added that “it is high time for farmers to veer away from chemical and capital-intensive agriculture. In our experience, farmers are more resilient from the effects of climate change when they shifted to agroecological practices. Thru the ‘no regrets adaptation’, farmers are ensured of food and income even if the weather is very unpredictable.”
The call to face climate change and prepare against its effects through farmer-led and farmer-centered agroecological solutions resonated through the whole GA.
Farmers challenged by climate change
“Climate change is one of the hardest challenges that poor farmers like us are facing right now,” said Carlito Seguiro, MASIPAG Chairman of the Board during his keynote speech. “We saw the effects of climate change-related calamities such as super typhoons which wiped out our resources and livelihoods, and caused deaths among thousands.”
“The recent drought spell that caused the failure of agricultural production in many areas was particularly fatal to the farmers of Kidapawan in North Cotabato,” Carlito added. “Farmers who were calling for the support and subsidies from the local government were met with violence during their picket rally and resulted to two deaths many injured, and dozens arrested.”
Carlito was referring to the 6000-strong protest in Kidapawan last April where drought-affected farmers trooped to the local government for support and release of subsidies. The province of North Cotabato has declared a state of calamity since early in 2016 due to the intense drought.
Carlito went on to call for a stronger unity against corporations and industries who are the worst polluters but are refusing accountability in cleaning up the environment or reducing carbon emissions.
Stronger organization achieving common goals
“Meanwhile, in 2015, organizational changes have also challenged MASIPAG,” said Carlito, referring to the dissociation of former staff and Regional Project Managament Team (RPMT) members from MASIPAG Mindanao. “As a huge, dynamic network, we have our share of healthy disagreements and differences of opinion. But always, we put our faith and trust on our common vision, mission, goals, objectives and principles in resolving these differences and maintaining a united and solid network that serves the interest of poor farmers and aim for genuine development.”
A new team in Mindanao headed by the Regional Coordinator Leo XL Fuentes Jr. has been established and has since then focused on consolidating POs and NGOs, including indigenous peoples’ (IPs) groups. In particular, initiatives have been undertaken to consolidate IP organizations who fled their homes and farms due to increased militarization in the areas. Among these are the farmers and IPs from the TIKULPA (Tinunanon Kulamanon Lumadnong Panaghiusa) PO in White Kulaman, Kitaotao, Bukidnon who have long cultivated the fertile soils of Arakan Valley through sustainable means.
New set of BOT
During the organizational meeting , resolutions were also put forward to support ongoing campaigns against GMOs, mining, landgrabbing and landlessness, climate change and corporate control on agriculture. After a thorough and intense discussion on the organizational issue in Mindanao, a unity statement was also drafted, and signed on by the GA.
One of the highlights of the GA is the election of the new Board of Trustees. The new BOT members are: Pepito Babasa, Marcelino Dela Rosa, Tranquilino Pillado Jr., Elpidio Paglomutan and Jofrey Frinal from the farmers; Karen Faith Villaprudente and Casilda Galagala from the NGOs; and Dr. Jaime Cabarles Jr. and Prof. Marion Tan from the scientists.
A tribute was paid to the late MASIPAG leaders and members, including former BOT member Francis Morales. A seed exchange and a cultural night also took place during the GA.#