Thursday last week the Agriculture Department Secretary, Mr. William Dar announced that his agency is endorsing the proposal of agri-business firm AgriNurture Inc (ANI) to “develop” idle indigenous lands to boost corn production by mixing it with rice. This according to Secretary Dar is in response to looming food gaps exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this proposal, the agriculture department will provide technical support as well as allot 200 Million pesos sourced from the Department’s budget for this endeavor.
The Agriculture Secretary mentioned that the indigenous communities need to be part of this “so they will be food secure and reduce their dependence on the commercial market.” Accordingly, at least 20,000.00 hectares of land will be targeted for the project.
“We from MASIPAG humbly disagree with the good secretary” said Leo XL Fuentes, Regional Coordinator of farmer-scientist group Masipag Mindanao.
“Our expansive experience in working with indigenous communities points to the fact that indigenous lands are not idle as what Secretary Dar seems to think. Indigenous Lands have far greater ecological and socio-cultural significance,” adds Fuentes. He further explained that these forested ancestral lands are home to a vast array of flora and fauna which the indigenous communities have developed sustainable ways of utilizing for food, housing and medicine. Indigenous communities are in fact food secure with these diverse dietary sources immediately located at their doorstep.
Fuentes further lamented that the potential consequences that this initiative will deal to the long term goals on ecological sustainability could be fatal. As Indigenous peoples have cultivated hundreds of traditional varieties of corn, rice and other cereals, introducing commercial varieties will not only erode genetic diversity but will also be a convenient pathway for the introduction of genetically modified crops and synthetic chemicals that would be harmful. “The good secretary must understand that these ancestral lands are fragile ecosystems. Any disruption to these areas must be limited to a minimal which is why conducting large scale agricultural activities with the use of commercially available chemicals will only damage these areas but will also impact lowland communities who rely on them as sources of potable water” says Fuentes.
Our work in Masipag also revealed the adverse socio-economic impact of planting hybrid and GM corn.
As planting commercial varieties use high priced chemicals, we can expect adopters to fail in providing the necessary capital to fuel its production. As such, this initiative will eradicate the sustainable farming systems practiced until today by indigenous communities and further their dependence on the commercial market contrary to the Secretary’s claims.
The Agency’s partner corporation, ANI came to national prominence in 2014 when it’s CEO and President Antonio Tiu was dragged into the so-called “Hacienda Binay” controversy. The main revenue sources of this corporation comes from exporting agricultural produce and has partnerships with several firms from China and Saudi Arabia for farming ventures in the country pegged at approximately 60,000 hectares as of 2016. Also, with investments from Black River Asset Management a subsidiary of Transnational firm Cargill, AgriNurture has been targeting lands for banana, rice and palm oil plantations in Mindanao through contract growing and lease arrangements.
“We in Masipag clearly see the corporate intent written all over this endeavor. The millions of taxpayer money earmarked for this endeavor will be better off in the hands of resource poor farmers. The practical way of solving our pre-existing food security issue is to support the growing people-led initiatives on agroecology championed by the county’s vibrant organic movement. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the farming sector has failed to reach its productive potential owing to the abject lack of support in terms of production subsidies, poor irrigation and post-harvest facilities. We are hopeful that the recent events will convince policy makers to take a more serious look into farming and agroecology in particular as we collectively navigate to the post-pandemic Philippines. It is now time to make agroecology the new normal,” concludes Fuentes.