AD Alvarez is a Filipino farmer who has ambition to give his life towards improving agriculture and restoring the true importance of farming in the Philippine society. In this opinion essay, he explains the state of agriculture there. With his permission, his blog is shared below.
When I was a child I was so fascinated by the die cast matchbox toy cars I see from other kids. I wanted to have one for my own but couldn’t since my parents cannot afford them. What I end up doing is making wood blocks into imaginary cars. Nowadays, matchboxes are quite affordable and is just a common toy. But the lesson from these two toys can illustrate something about the state of Philippine agriculture. While the toys in my childhood can bring the same pleasure into the imagination of child at play, the two toys remain to be different. The matchbox toy car has almost real appearance of a car. No matter who holds the matchbox, it will appear the same and effectively represent what it intends to represent. But for the wooden block, only a child with the desire to imagine it to be a toy car, has the power to make it appear like a toy car. For others, it is just a wooden block. One is a real car model, the other is just a wooden block.
The story I shared above is what I can say how the Philippine agriculture is different from agriculture systems in other progressive countries like the US. We may use the same terms in the two different countries. We may have similar references. But the Philippine agriculture is like the wooden block, it is just as real as how one would want to imagine it is, even if it is not.
In my limited observation as a farmer from the Philippines visiting fellow farmers in the US, I got to have an opportunity to glance at the agriculture systems that exist in both countries. Having interactions with fellow farmers, I have noticed eventually that we may easily assume that we have the same thing: an agriculture wherein the basic idea is to produce food. But, if you compare the two, agriculture can mean two different things and farming are two different ways. Not the same. Almost similar purpose but still very different. One is intentionally designed. The other one carries an appearance of similarity but if you look closer the structure it easily turns into a “wooden block”. Not even close to what agriculture is intended to be. Only an appearance that can make sense to those who are using it. Like a piece of wood to imagine as a toy car when it is not. The Philippine agriculture is like an imaginary agriculture when it is not.
In the Philippines we say food is important, yet we do not protect the farmers and producers that are making them. Our system is not balanced. The system favors the traders and we leave our farmers to survive on their own. In the words of one trader, “Let the market sort it out.”.
In the US, I have observed, they create the space for farmers to have a market. They harness the power of the law to give farmers the demand to produce, their financial ecosystem makes the farmers earn so they can plant again. Simply put, they uphold the importance of farmers by showing it in all of their efforts of governance, banking, their education system, insurance laws, and even in their regard to the farmers as heroes next to soldiers.
In the Philippines, we have policies and laws that contradict the need to be efficient. Capital access is elusive because we have very poor agriculture insurance ecosystem. We have reduced our landholdings that it does not make sense how a farmer can have a decent operation in such a small space. And YET we still say we care for our farmers. Too much talk about the poor and poverty from people who have no or too little understanding of what poverty means.
In the US, they constantly find ways to make farming efficient, profitable and sustainable. Because food is important. Schools were established to have better agriculture and not just diploma mills. Real talk. Farmers are empowered by enriching their resources and giving them the tools that would make them better farmers. Giving them the security that no matter what happens, they will be able to keep producing food that will feed their people.
In the Philippines, we have reduced our farmers to a place to harvest votes from instead of empowering them to be prosperous and independent people. I think it would take time to fix the structural flaws in the Philippine Agriculture. It has to be fixed. But I also think, the current solution to keep the food security at an acceptable level lies in the private initiatives.
I can go on and on and write the heart-wrenching comparison why we have a very poor agriculture system in the Philippines. But that is not me. Instead of avoiding the issue and poverty in agriculture, I have chosen to be a farmer. A Filipino farmer who has this ambition to give my life towards improving agriculture and restoring the true importance of farming in the Philippine society. I am tired and broke, but if the Lord would grant me more time in life, I will strive to keep fighting against this tide of apathy, senselessness, and manipulation. I will work to fix what is broken and help whenever I can. I see a solution. Many times it feels like I am on my own. Praying desperately for God’s miracle that I can make a difference as a strive to fix a broken system, one cropping at a time. -AD Alvarez, a farmer in the Philippines and a member of the Global Farmer Network