BY IKE SEÑERES
ACTUALLY, the family farms idea is not entirely new.
Family farms have existed in the Philippines for a long time now, including the one built and operated by my late father in Compostela Valley many years ago.
However, there is clearly no legal basis for the idea to be recognized, and for family farm owners and operators to avail of incentives, benefits and other forms of assistance.
This idea might be a big one as others may have seen it, but what is equally big is the idea that groups of family farms could actually form cooperatives among themselves.
This other idea comes with an entirely new dimension, that farmer cooperatives should be composed of collective family farms, and not of individual farmers.
There is actually another dimension here, and that is the idea that clusters of farmer cooperatives could practically become newly formed communities or newly strengthened communities if they are already existing, purposely given the status of being incentivized economic zones.
In an exchange of email messages, I reasoned with Danny Ang that we should use the term “farming cooperatives”, and not “farmer’s cooperatives”.
Ang is the secretary-general of the Philippine Cooperative Center (PCC), one of the larger cooperative groups that have expressed an interest in moving forward with the family farms idea.
After studying the idea further, I now agree with Ang that the proper term should be “farmer’s cooperatives” because it is more people oriented, just like consumer’s cooperatives, driver’s cooperatives and homeowner’s cooperatives.
This is actually just a matter of technicality, because the family farms as I have proposed to define it are really composed of individual farmers who just happen to be family members also.
The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in the Philippines might have been formed with good intentions, but it is clearly lacking in good support mechanisms.
For example, it may be comprehensive in scope, but it is clearly not comprehensive in terms of depth. While it is often said that Agrarian Reform Communities (ARCs) are lacking in post-harvest facilities, nobody seems to notice that these are also lacking in many other farm supports that are needed in achieving good harvests.
It is already moot and academic by now, but the parcels of land that were given to the CARP beneficiaries are actually too small for them to achieve the economies of scale that are needed to have financially viable farming operations.
I am not saying that these parcels should be increased. What I am saying is that some forms of cooperation should be introduced in order to achieve the economies of scale, and that could only happen under the cooperative approach.
Not that I am exaggerating, but I really believe that whatever shortcomings there are under CARP, there are still ways to cure these under the legal framework of the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA).
If and when declared and recognized as incentivized economic zones, all the ARCs and all the newly formed communities or newly strengthened communities under the family farms idea could grow and prosper.
To have a visual picture of what to expect in an agro-industrial economic zone, just imagine that there would be four sub-zones, one each for production, processing, manufacturing and shipping.
Production could be a mix of fruits, vegetables, poultry and livestock, root crops plus fish and other marine life. Processing could just be a stage for packaging of fresh products, or it could also be for preparing raw materials for manufacturing.
In a roundtable discussion during the World Indigenous People’s Day, Dr. Roland Dy of the University of Asia and the Pacific (UAP) talked about the success of the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) in developing new agro-industrial estates in Malaysia.
As I remember it, the FELDA approach is similar to the Bagong Lipunan Integrated Sites and Services (BLISS) approach during the Marcos era, but BLISS was discontinued when Martial Law ended.
Since then, the Philippine government has not introduced any other comprehensive agro-industrial estate development program, except perhaps some selective and isolated projects under the framework of the PEZA. For whatever it may be worth, it may be a good idea to create economic zones within the agricultural lands covered by the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs).
Ramon Ignacio, a veteran of the BLISS approach says that in Taiwan, the land reform system encouraged and paved the way for agro-fisheries production and intensification.
He added that during the martial law years in Taiwan, one individual was allotted 2.5 hectares only. He said that that parcel could not be divided among the children, and only one child is given the chance to use the land.
He further said that it was not actually land ownership that was given, but the privilege to till or make use of the land for productive purposes. If a parcel of land is not tilled or put into productive use, anybody could still apply to till the land, he added.
He explained that that was the reason why, even small plots along the highways in Taiwan at that time were planted with all sorts of crops. Since they have only a small territory, almost all idle lands were put into use.
To maximize yields, the Taiwanese resorted to high-intensity production technologies (high yielding varieties), green houses, irrigation, aeration, fertilization, concrete fishponds, fish and aquatic fisheries among others, according to Ignacio.
Atty. Ed De Vega, the Assistant Secretary for Legal Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) says that there is actually a “Year of the Family Farm” that is being celebrated worldwide, but there seems to be no international convention that could govern the family farm idea globally.
He opines that here in the Philippines, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) probably considers the family farm idea within the context of the CARP. He agrees with me that a legal framework should be created in order to move forward with the family farm idea.
Atty. Allen Quimpo, a former Congressman from Aklan says that he agrees with my advocacy to refocus our agricultural policies towards strengthening the foundations of agriculture and farming. He said that the concept of a family farm is inherently Pro- Filipino, socially, scientifically, economically and politically.
According to him, we have tried and failed in many agricultural programs because these did not consider Filipino values. He added that our own family experience in losing our family farm in Compostela Valley is one case in point. It was unfair and unjust, he said, and added that many productive farms have become uneconomical because of these flawed policies./PN