FAITH, HOPE, CHARITY: Family farms

BY IKE SEÑERES

FAMILIES and farms have been around for centuries, but it seems that it is only in recent times that “family farms” as legal entities have been recognized by many countries.

It also seems that this recognition has not yet been given in the Philippines.

Of course, there are many “family farms” that already exist in the Philippines, some of them owned by families over many generations, but the legal framework to recognize them as such does not exist yet.

In the United States, “family farms” are recognized as those that are:

(1) producing agricultural commodities for sale in such quantities so as to be recognized in the community as a farm, and not just as a rural residence

(2) producing enough income to pay for family and farm operating expenses

(3) managed by an operator who is a family member

(4) able to provide a supply of labor provided by the operator and the family, and

(5) hiring seasonal and supplemental labor as needed.

It appears that under Philippine laws, these “family farms” could be registered either as single proprietorships, as partnerships or as corporations.

If registered as a partnership, the partners could be the family members.

If registered as a corporation, the incorporators could also be the family members.

What is important is for these “family farms” to have the legal personality to transact business or to receive assistance, incentives and other benefits from either the local government or the national government. In this new context, the concept of a “farmer” could change from that of being a “peasant” to that of an “entrepreneur”.

It is important to note however that even if these “family farms” are registered as corporations, their business should not be referred to as “corporate farms” so as not to confuse it with the highly commercialized and heavily funded agribusiness conglomerates.

Looking back to my own childhood, I now realize that my family actually had a “family farm” in the true sense of the word, consisting of about 24 hectares of farmland.

What became the farm area was cleared from the forest in Mindanao by my father and his hired laborers under the “homestead” program of the post-war government.

In a sense, my father responded to the call of the government at that time to “go south”, but the privilege of claiming a homestead was also a form of reward for him for being a war veteran.

Many years later, that farm that was given to him by the government was taken from him by the same government, under the land reform program. It was clear from the very start that he was not a landlord who was oppressing his peasants. He was a farm operator who was paying his farm laborers their just wages.

Just as the barangay is the basic unit of governance in the Philippines, the “family farm” is supposed to be the basic unit of a mostly agricultural economy, and this concept or reality should now be officially recognized in the Philippines.

In the United States, “farm loans” are extended to “family farms” by the US Farm Service Agency.

Here in the Philippines, there are “agricultural loans” so to speak that are extended by the government, but the usual press release is that these loans are given to the “farmers” and not to the operators of the “family farms”.

It is really about time that we shift from the individual perspective to the collective perspective, because a “family farm” is really a collective enterprise so to speak, regardless of whether it is registered as a single proprietorship, as a partnership or as a corporation.

As I see it now, it would be good for our country if the “family farm” would also become the basic unit of the farming sector within the national cooperative movement.

The “family farms” should become the foundations upon which the strong farming cooperatives should be built. This is not just a matter of semantics, because we should be building strong farming cooperatives and not “farmer’s cooperatives” as we usually refer to them.

The reason for this is that we should shift our focus from individual farmers to collective farms owned by family units. In order to complete this paradigm shift in our thinking, we should now formally recognize the existence of the farming sector within the national cooperative movement, just as we should formally recognize the other sectors within the movement such as the housing sector and the manufacturing sector.

As I understand it, the successful farming cooperatives in Europe are composed of collective “family farms” and not of individual farmers only. The perfect example in this case are dairy processing cooperatives that are owned by “family farms” that are engaged in the production of raw cow milk.

The raw cow milk is sold by the “family farms” to the dairy processing cooperatives, thus assuring them of a ready market that they themselves own and control. If we transpose this model to the Philippines, we could have “family farms” that are producing rice that they could sell to a rice processing cooperative that they themselves own and control.

For practical reasons, these rice processing cooperatives could also rent out common service facilities to their member farms, such as a farm tractor pool and a grains drier pool.

For as long as I could remember, rice farmers have always been complaining that they do not have post-harvest facilities for drying, milling and storing. These complaints could become a thing of the past if the rice processing cooperatives could be the one to maintain and operate these rice processing facilities.

As a matter of policy, commercial banks would rather extend loans to cooperatives instead of individuals. That being the case, why not enable these cooperatives so that they would be the ones to borrow from the banks? The situation is not much different in the case of the fishermen who complain that they do not have cold storage facilities.

For so many years now, the national cooperative movement has not been growing as much as it should, probably due to the fact that many coop members are not really productive on their own, with some of them simply riding on the productivity of the other coop members.

This could also become a thing of the past in the case of the farming sector, if the “family farms” would directly become the members of the farming coops, instead of individual members per se. In this case, it could just be a matter of semantics, because the members of the families would actually become members of the coops, even if indirectly. (Email bantaygobyerno- [email protected] or text +639083159262)/PN