The United Nations declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming. With an estimate of 500 million family farms across developed and developing nations, the UN acknowledges the potential of family farmers in eradicating hunger, preserving natural resources, and promoting rural and sustainable development.
However, the potential of family farming is not supported by government policies in many parts of the world. Despite the UN’s acknowledgement of the vitality of smallholder farming, the Philippines is still one of the most unequal rural societies in Southeast Asia. According to the Gini index of landholdings which measures land inequality, the Philippines rated at 0.57 in 2002. Land inequality in the Philippines was higher than its regional neighbors such as Indonesia (0.46), Thailand (0.47), and Vietnam (0.53) (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations). The declining condition of the country’s agricultural sector makes access to family farms and promotion of food security among families even more difficult.
The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), which outlines the Philippines’ major agrarian reform policies and legislation, is currently the country’s longest-running program meant to alleviate rural inequality and still forms the litmus test of Philippine democracy’s commitment to sustainable development and social justice. However, the 27-year-old CARP, first implemented in 1988, is set to expire on June 30, 2014 with a land redistribution backlog of 800,000 hectares. These undistributed lands engender loss of livelihood and food insecurity to at least 1.1 million Filipino farmers’ families all over the country.
Even more than the issue of land redistribution, Filipino farmers today are increasingly subject to human rights abuses. Based on a 2013 nationwide consultation of farmers’ groups by the Save Agrarian Reform Alliance (SARA), human rights violations in the countryside are on the rise. There are various cases of human rights abuses in the northern part of the country such as in the Sumalo land casein Bataan Province, where farmers have been subjected to years of systematic intimidation, violence,and harassment by former landowners. Approximately 200 of these farmers’ families in Sicogon Island, Iloilo Province, were forced to resettle in public forestland after a private development corporation seized their lands as a location for the building of a resort. These cases, however, are just a microcosm of the country’s present agrarian condition.
There is no doubt that the Philippine economy is agriculturally driven. Most families raise their income from farming to sustain their daily needs. A Filipino family should be empowered with opportunities to improve their lands. They should own their land instead of being arbitrarily driven out of land they have been cultivating for decades. If the UN has recognized that family farmers are leading figures in achieving universal food security, why can’t we make this a reality in our own country by properly implementing agrarian reform policies? With this, we could improve the condition of millions of Filipino families. It should be the right of every human being and every family, not only in the Philippines, to benefit from the lands that they, themselves, till.
By Ace Paolo Dela Cruz, a regional intern at World Youth Alliance Asia Pacific office and founding chairman of the Ateneans for Agrarian Reform Movement in the Philippines