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Corporate Farming Won’t Ease Hunger in Mindanao

Corporate Farming Won’t Ease Hunger in Mindanao

Jan 14, 2012


by Billy de la Rosa

There are agribusiness strategies and agribusiness strategies. Certainly, the one spearheaded by government and the landlord–transnational combine in Mindanao hasn’t eradicated poverty and hunger in Mindanao. One hopes that this is not the one being defended by Ibarra Malonzo. I hope I’m right to think that he is not saying that poverty and hunger in Mindanao are due to the fact that there is not enough of the kind of agribusiness that is not being that is now being promoted in the country’s food basket.

If one goes by the numbers that he presents, agribusiness is indeed the way to go. But what he fails to mention is that transnationals and Filipino agribusiness capitalists are the ones who appropriate the profits. Policy makers and government regulators have done little to protect the rights of the small farmers in agribusiness contracts. This was what I was referring to when I said that the promised prosperity in agribusiness had not been realized for may Mindanaoans despite the untold wealth that was created by agribusiness.

The same export numbers have been cited by agribusiness companies to justify their anti-agrarian reform position. They say that agrarian reform will destroy the economies of scale of plantations. To circumvent the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), companies like Dole and Del Monte invented the leaseback scheme in which plantations covered by CARP were immediately leased back to the company for extended periods – some up to 60 years – at amounts that would make the word pittance spell generous.

Malonzo mentions the oil palm plantation in Agusan as guilty of this and goes on to admit that plantation companies operating in Mindanao are among the worst violators of workers’ rights. He was quick, however, to say that these practices do not negate the value of the corporations’ contribution to productivity and incomes.

But these practices are precisely what keep Mindanao and its people poor. And this is precisely the brand of agribusiness being promoted by the current administration in the name of promoting the food basket policy. I hope that by challenging President Macapagal-Arroyo to back up her words with deeds, Malonzo does not want her to do a Marcos by declaring huge areas of land under government ownership and leasing these to agribusiness – Filipino or foreign – just what he did for oil palm in Agusan and bananas in Davao del Norte.

I agree with Malonzo that there is an urgent need to re-examine agricultural policy for Mindanao. There is nothing wrong with vertical integration and value addition as he defines it in the article. The question is, who controls and who benefits from agribusiness? What is terribly wrong with the agribusiness strategy as it is currently implemented is that everything is placed at the control of the companies – the same ones that had been notorious for their anti-people practices, which Malonzo fought against in his days in the labor movement.

The Philippines should develop an agro-industrial policy that answers its own needs and not one that follows (gaya gaya) what companies from other countries want us to do.

Take the case of the administration’s oil palm plantation promotion program. Palm oil started as a low quality vegetable oil, which was described by some industry experts as similar to automatic transmission fluid of automobiles in color and smell. But, because of the effort and resources which Malaysia put in research and development, it is now the world’s premier traded oil.

Within a few short decades, it has overtaken by leaps and bounds the Philippines’ coconut oil in importance in the global markets of vegetable oils. Because it pioneered in palm oil research and development, Malaysia now stands as the world’s palm oil king, controlling its technology and markets. Now, its companies are promoting the development of oil palm plantations in countries with similar climate as a strategy to make it the dominant oil worldwide, overtaking soya oil. Malaysian companies are looking for partners to provide land for oil palm plantations in Mindanao.

The lessons of palm oil’s success seem to be lost on the country’s policy makers. Coconut has declined in the world because, unlike Malaysia, the Philippines did not invest in research and development. Today, we would rather ride on Malaysia’s success than pioneer in coconut research and development.

The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is being mobilized to promote oil palm expansion rather than its original mandate to promote the coconut industry. This is tantamount to throwing away the country’s leadership in the world’s coconut industry.

What Mindanao needs is an agricultural policy that begins and ends with people.

Not too long ago, Marcos took 8,000 hectares of land from settlers and lumads in Agusan del Sur and gave it to a Malaysian company to develop an oil palm plantation.

Driven out of their land, the people went straight into the waiting arms of the communist rebels. To defend the plantation, the company hired the services of the notorious Lost Command. Thus started the spiral of violence in Agusan del Sur.

Today, calling oil palm the “tree of peace”, government is promoting oil palm plantation expansion in all parts of Mindanao. Indigenous communities have started to complain about violation of their rights in the course of plantation expansion in their ancestral domain.

Is this the type of agribusiness that will bring prosperity to the people of Mindanao?

(Published in: Focus on the Philippines No. 43, http://focusweb.org/oldphilippines/content/view/85/6/)

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