Mga Kuwento ng Magbubukid sa Ilalim ng COVID-19 Series
It is in the midst of a crisis that we see the vital importance of our peasants. In the Philippines, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, farmers and fisherfolk continue to risk their lives to ensure that we have access to healthy and fresh food.
In this weekly series, the Rural Poor Institute for Land and Human Rights Services, Inc. (Rights, Inc.) and the Kilusan Para sa Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (KATARUNGAN) feature stories of small and landless farmers as they face the everyday challenges of life under lockdown.
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to affect the lives and livelihoods of Filipinos and every citizens of the world, its impacts are felt differently across the country. In the countryside of Bondoc Peninsula, the Luzon-wide lockdown extended by President Rodrigo Duterte until the end of April exacerbates existing vulnerabilities and challenges faced by small farmers.
Hacienda Villa Reyes used to be the biggest private hacienda in Bondoc Peninsula, Quezon with an area of 8,000 hectares. Agrarian Reform struggle in the area started in the year 2001. Since then, land ownership and control have been reconfigured in favor of small farmers with around 3,000 hectares of lands distributed to around 1,400 landless farmers. However, farmers remain poor due to the failure of the previous and current governments to provide essential services to make the land productive, initial capitalization, and access to the market. Extreme and slow-onset weather events such as successive droughts and the recent typhoon (Tisoy) have devastated the hacienda in late 2019. The African swine fever (ASF) also diminished their chance of earning from raising native pigs, which is their main source of income outside of coconut farming. Due to this situation, most resident-farmers of Villa Reyes opt to seek other livelihood opportunities in nearby urban areas. When the Luzon-wide lockdown as response to COVID-19 was announced by the government, 33 farmer-residents were still in Laguna working at a poultry farm for supposedly a week. The farmers earn a daily wage under the “no work, no pay” scheme. But when the farm closed and public transportation halted due to the lockdown, they were compelled to walk for more than 200 km from Laguna to Bondoc Peninsula—the last “walkers” who are quarantined by the Quezon province before being released home to their families. The households in Villa Reyes are now in a very difficult situation due to lack of income and access to food as they have barely recovered from the multiple impacts of ASF and climate change-induced weather changes.
Anticipating a worse-case scenario of prolonged lockdown, a group of 18 families is planning to initiate food production by developing a hectare of coconut land into rice area and another hectare into a white corn area to feed their families and realize food security within their community. They need seeds and farm input to undertake this transformation. Adequate and regular relief goods are also needed during this time that the rural communities are trying to produce their own food.
RIGHTS and KATARUNGAN are also assisting several communities to access planting materials and inputs from the government. The COVID-19 teaches us that small farmers—those who provide food in our tables—are also frontliners in this war in which the enemy is nowhere and everywhere. Now, more than ever is the time to fix our broken food system and re-prioritize our small farmers and food producers. RIGHTS and KATARUNGAN are calling for a review and recast of government policies that push farmers to move away from farming. Now is the time to provide them the necessary support to continue feeding themselves and the nation.