Farmers are essential

Farmers are essential

May 15 is an important date for many farming and fishing communities all over the country. It is the feast of San Isidro Labrador, the patron of farmers. It is a day of social gathering for farmers who most of the time are alone in their isolated farms. This year, the quarantine surely has an effect on how the farmers celebrate their feast day. Poor farmers, most of the time they toil in their isolated farms, and now the one occasion for them to socialize can even be denied to them.

Yes, poor farmers! For so many years we have neglected them, especially those of us who are in the cities. We do not see them around. We do not know how they toil and strive to survive. Yet because of their labor we are fed and nourished. This quarantine experience has once more brought to the fore the essential services that the farmers render to us. For a long time we have thought that this globalized world will support our needs, even the basic ones such as food. The virus has unexpectedly and suddenly stopped international trade. How do we get our food from abroad? Fortunately, other countries where we get our food are not very much affected by the virus, such as Vietnam and Thailand where we get our rice. If these countries stop exporting rice to us, how will we feed our people? We have not given enough support to our farmers. We prefer to import, even staple as rice. We have no food security—and yet we are an agricultural country!

Most of our people live on agriculture and fishery. These sectors do not get the budget and the services that they need. So we have the phenomenon of farmers and fisherfolks among the poorest in the country, and consequently many of them flock to the urban centers which receive the bulk of services and government attention. Hence we have rapid urbanization which bring along with it congested urban poor communities, pollution, and even lawlessness.

Now the government wants the people to go back to the provinces to ward off the danger of massive contamination in our urban centers. Thus the Balik Probinsya Balik Pag-asa (BPBP) Program is being trumpeted. There have been so many back-to-the- province programs in the past and they all have failed. The people they sent to the provinces came back to the cities after some time. Now they promise to give skills training to the people and give them a bit of a capital for them to stay there. This is already a positive realization. People come to the cities because they have no livelihood in the provinces. But this is not enough. The government and businesses should pour massive investment in rural areas so that they get adequate human services and jobs in the provinces. There are still areas without electricity. What basic service can they get without electricity? Many areas have no health clinics, and if they happen to have, they are just empty buildings because there are no healthcare workers—no doctors and nurses, and poorly trained and supervised barangay healthcare workers. Many rural roads are impassable during rainy seasons and dusty on dry seasons. Because of the bad roads the transport system is unreliable and expensive. In a word, the development plan – and the budget—should all be aligned to give importance to the rural areas in order to develop the agricultural and fishery sectors of our society.

I hope the corona virus should be a wake up call for the government and business to pay attention to our farmers and fisher folks. They are essential to our economy and to our survival!