Hunger in the Philippines is evaluated as “serious.” This was exposed by Welthungerhilfe and Concerned Worldwide in their Global Hunger Index report for 2019. The GHI measures and tracks hunger and malnutrinition in nations. The report also said that stunting among children below five years is “alarming,” and indicates widespread malnutrition.
It is ironic that hunger is most felt by peasant families who produce the nation’s staple food. Up to 70% belonging to this sector are counted among the poorest. Hunger is most widespread in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao where up to 44% go hungry based on conservative estimates by the reactionary government.
The main reason for hunger and food scarcity in the countryside is the measly income of landless peasants and low wages of farm workers. This is even worsened by Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Liberalization Law (Rice Tariffication Law), which today is the bane of palay (unhusked rice) farmers.
Its enactment in February resulted in the influx of imported rice in the local market. This year, the volume of rice imports is expected to reach approximately 2.3 million metric tons (MT) which is significantly higher than last year’s 1.9 million MT. A ton is equivalent to 1,000 kilos.
This resulted in a sharp drop in the farmgate price of palay. Several ressearches indicate that palay farmgate prices dropped by more than 21% on average from September 2018 to 2019. Because of this, income of farmers who sell dried palay dropped from P29,100/hectare to only P10,500/hectare nationwide. Farmers who sell wet palay incur more losses.
Data by the Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Magbubukid (PKM)-Bikol indicate that undried palay is bought at only P8.50 in Polangui, one of Albay’s top palay producers. At this price, farmers lose a lot because they spend at least P51,130/hectare of palay. The cost of production includes expenses for production materials (P8,100) and labor (P43,030). If labor is paid wholesale, a farmer needs P48,210. All expenses are shouldered by the farmer.
After three months, an hectare will yield 70 sacks of palay, with each sack usually weighing 50 kilos. At P8.50 per kilo in Albay, a farmer gets only P29,750. Subtracting the cost of production to this amount leaves a farmer with no profit and a net loss of P21,380. The farmer is also indebted to the landlord as he is obliged to pay 10% of his net income as land rent.
Palay farmers in Camarines Sur also reap debts. With a total production cost of P49,590, farmers are left with a net income of only P26,250 for 75 sacks of palay which are sold at a farmgate price of P7 per kilo. They are short by more than P23,000 to break even. Consequently, they are compelled to loan from landlords or usurers to fund the next planting season. After incurring losses from palay production, farmers are faced with high prices of rice in the local market which amount to P30-P50 per kilo. (In Camarines Sur, the prevailing income sharing scheme is 40-60, in favor of the landlord. The cost of production is shouldered by the landowner.)
Estimates by PKM indicate that P13.80-P14.50 is needed for a kilo of palay production in the Philippines. This higher compared to the P7-budgetary requirement in Vietnam and P11 in Thailand. In these countries, governments provide subsidies for rice production.
Farmers demand the immediate revocation of the RA 11203 and an increase in palay farmgate prices. Otherwise, they will further suffer from hunger. Farmers have already incurred at least P60 billion in losses from January to August.
In the long term, agrarian revolution will ensure minimum benefits for farmers, until free land distribution is carried out. Alongside other socio-economic programs, farmers’ production become most beneficial in advancing their health and welfare.