It was still clear to Tranquilina “Nay Quiling” Alibango how her mother was invited a few decades ago by the technicians from the barangay to join the MASAGANA 99 program–a ruthless government program which eventually changed their free, simple, and healthy lives in their community to one that forces them to participate in an impractical, unsafe, and destructive system of farming.
In 1969, her mother joined the MASAGANA 99, a program by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., which aims to increase yield through the use of high-yielding varieties which are dependent on chemical inputs. Nay Quiling was young back then. She remembers that after the meeting at the barangay hall, a farmer group was formed and its members received “R175” rice varieties packaged with several chemical inputs, such as fertilizer and pesticide.
According to Nay Quiling, most farmers relied heavily on the MASAGANA 99 program at the time because seeds and chemical inputs were initially free. Eventually, farmers felt the negative effects of the program after several seasons having no government assistance. During the program, rapid increase of cases of rat infestations and other pests have also been observed.
R175 grows well due to heavy chemical inputs, according to Nay Quiling. Her mother, on the other hand, always tells her that the harvest is “Drop Out,” which means that they garner a negative net income caused by high production costs and low revenues. Her family had no choice but to take the risk of owing money to local Chinese merchants in order to continue farming the way the technicians instructed. As a result, every revenue from their rice farming was automatically allocated to pay the Chinese debt, leaving them with less income to take home for their food, school expenses, and other necessities.
Nay Quiling recalls that before the MASAGANA 99, her family used to plant traditional crop varieties of corn and rice that did not require any chemical inputs. With these crops, they had surplus products. Her experience with MASAGANA 99 taught her that farmers will continue to suffer if they continue to participate in this program. The impracticality, harmful practices and injustices in these programs pushed them to gradually shift back to sustainable agricultural practices.
To ensure a safe and healthy community, it is vital that we recall and study our history rich in practices of ecological farming. Nay Quiling urges the government to support small farmers and their campaign to mainstream sustainable agriculture especially now in the midst of a climate emergency and widespread food insecurity.