As the pandemic Covid 19 lashes out on many countries including the Philippines, problems on agriculture and food has come to the fore. The pandemic has exposed the problems of the ‘normalcy’ of the current agriculture wherein both the people and the environment suffer.
The chemical intensive, market-oriented and corporate controlled agribusiness has wreaked havoc in our environment, people’s health and farmers lives and livelihood. In the Philippines, and elsewhere, small farmers are forced to open up forest lands and reserves for agriculture in order to break even from the costs incurred from to the steep price of chemicals, fertilizers and privatized seeds such as GM crops and hybrids coupled with very low selling price of their products and usury. Hectares of fertile agricultural lands for local food security are either turned into monocrop plantations regularly doused with chemical pesticides affecting communities and biodiversity or converted into industrial or commercial.
Profit-driven corporate agriculture, along with extractive projects such as large scale mining and megadams, was said to contribute to the transmission of zoonotic viruses such as Covid 19 as people are becoming in contact with wildlife as habitats dwindle due to unbridled expansion.
The pandemic has also exposed the weaknesses of the current agriculture system as tons of agricultural products are either being dumped and destroyed despite the glaring lack of food among the populace. The seemingly disconnect of rural and urban, the supremarketization of food, and the liberalization of agriculture among others has led to millions of people suffer from hunger and malnutrition, farmers without decent incomes and the environment destroyed.
However, this pandemic has also turned the people’s attention to food and agriculture. The prioritization of food during crisis suddenly became paramount. Local markets such as palengke and talipapa took the role in making food more accessible to communities. Many Filipinos became urban gardeners overnight. Issues on regarding farmer rights, land and agriculture are now taking center stage. The people are coming to a realization on their right to food, taking on creative ways to call for state accountability. However with the new appreciation for food and agriculture, policy-makers are still focusing on the ‘normalcy’ of conventional agriculture as a means to make the Philippines self-reliant and self-sufficient.
What then should be the new normal? MASIPAG encourages everyone to take on Agroecology as a holistic approach in ensuring just, sustainable, resilient and people-centered agricultural systems, a path towards food sovereignty and the rights of people to food.
Agroecology is taken to mean not only the principles and practices related to promoting the sustainability and resilience of food and farming systems, but it is also a valid scientific research approach and a socio-political movement advancing its application and seeking new ways of food production, processing, distribution and consumption. Agroecology seeks harmonious relationships with nature and within society, in contraposition to industrial farming which has profit as its ultimate goal. (CIDSE 2017).
People’s movements have also embraced agroecology as the path towards food sovereignty and see its evolution as resulting from dynamic dialogues between farmers, scientists and social movements. (PAN International 2019).
Agroecology goes hand-in hand with the people’s call for food sovereignty; gives importance to the environment and agrobiodiversity, integrates science and ecological principles with knowledge and practice of farmers and indigenous peoples, gives priority on local economies to be able to respond to local needs and puts farmers first in the agenda. Agroecology places farmers and the people’s right to food at the center of policies, and the people as active participants in the attainment of their right to food.
In simple ways, the people are already beginning to appreciate and practice Agroecology. Methods and practices on urban gardening, seed sharing and preservation, simple composting, food processing and many other organic and sustainable practices are being freely shared. Local food markets are set-up to cater to the needs of the communities. Linkages between farmers and consumers are likewise strengthened. Despite the challenges of lockdowns and social distancing, farmers are practicing bayanihan in its truest sense, as farmers share and exchange seeds, produce and do communal work. Farmers that are practicing agroecology and sustainable agriculture are by far doing better despite lockdowns. Protests, done at home, are calling the State to fulfil its obligation to ensure people’s right to safe, nutritious, diverse and culturally appropriate food.
With this renewed energy to attain food security, the fight for self-sufficiency and self-reliance should be linked and raised to a higher call for the respect of farmers’ rights to resources, the peoples right to food and environmental preservation. This includes the denouncement corporate control and neoliberal approaches in food and agriculture, to call for genuine agrarian reform, to stop the current agriculture model that destroys nature, and the respect to human rights. MASIPAG has also released its six points for food security (see link) as a proposal to ensure food for the people, crisis or not.
As the popular saying nowadays, we should not get back to normal, because normal was the problem. The pandemic gave us a way to rethink and reconsider our food and agriculture systems, and the path that we must take to be able to sustain the people while taking care of our planet. On Earth Day, MASIPAG joins the various farmers organizations, consumers, academe and sectoral groups call for just, sustainable and equitable food system. Lets take this chance to make Agroecology our new normal.