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Voices from the Ground

Without the farmers, we have no food on the table to share with our family members. Without the farmers, who play a vital role in our daily lives, lavishness on food becomes an empty rhetoric for there will be no more fancy gatherings among the elite.

But how far have we gone in helping the farmers fight for their rights over the lands they till? Or have we looked into their plights as backbones of our economy?

On 22 May 2019, the Citizens Disaster Response Center (CDRC) came out with a story painting the plight of peasants of Banat-e Village, San Isidro, Leyte in Central Philippines.

According to CDRC, San Isidro is a fourth class municipality, some 105 kilometers northwest of Tacloban City. Majority of the more than 31,000 people here derive their income from farming and fishing. Life is difficult for most of them who are tenant farmers and fisher folks. The long dry spell has also exacerbated the poor peasants’ suffering.

Photo taken by Leyte Center for Development, Inc.

Edison Robilla and Donato Apolinar are tenant farmers from Banat-e Village. Edison is 58 and Donato is 64.

Photo taken by Leyte Center for Development, Inc.

Edison and Donato plant rice in a one-hectare farm owned by a landlord family. Without any serious calamity, they harvest twice a year in this rain-fed farm.

The average harvest for one hectare is 40 sacks of palay for one cropping season. Of this, the landlord takes 10 sacks, which is ¼ of the harvest.

The 30 sacks left are worth PHP 750.00 per sack. This amounts to PHP 22,500.00.

When the ¾ sharing comes, the tenant farmer lists the cost of production that he incurred during the cropping season. Land tilling using a rented carabao rent with an additional hired labor  (PHP 7,500.00); rented cultivator (PHP1,800.00); hiring a labor group (PHP9,000.00); five sacks of fertilizer (PHP6,500.00); and palay seeds for planting (PHP1,600.00). The total production cost is PHP 26,400.00.

Looking at the figures, their income of PHP 22,500.00 is not even enough to cover their production expenses worth PHP 26,400.00. Furthermore, Edison and Donato did not even include their labor power converted into cash as part of the production cost.

Photo taken by Leyte Center for Development, Inc.

When CDRC asked how they survive, they replied that they borrow money from usurers who demand 10-20 percent interest rate. They fall into a vicious cycle of repeated borrowing, rendering their children and their children’s children indebted to the landlord who is also the usurer.

However, Donato and Edison were not able to harvest a single grain of palay at the onset of 2019. The prolonged drought turned their farms into a parched patch of land and damaged all the palay they have already planted.

They usually relied on root crops and bananas to see them through the lean months, but now the root crops have also been damaged. There is widespread hunger, even unrest in the communities.

Photo taken by Leyte Center for Development, Inc.

Meanwhile, Josefina Toleroso, now at her twilight at age 64, of Taglawigan Village is still active in production work.

Like thousands of farmers and fisher folk of San Isidro, Josefina’s corn farm was affected by the dry spell. She tearfully narrated during the interview that they have not had any harvest for 2019. Last November, they barely got three sacks of corn, a far cry from the 25-30 sacks they usually harvest before the impacts of drought that hit their farm.

Josefina also had some farmland planted with cassava root crops. She and many other farmers of San Isidro were beneficiaries of CARE Philippines’ root crop production and marketing project some three years ago. But due to this drought, most of the root crops did not survive. She explained that like the other beneficiaries, they had to stop their cassava production and marketing project.

Photo taken by Leyte Center for Development, Inc.

Fishing, the farmers’ secondary source of income, was also heavily affected by the dry spell. The fisher folk narrated that fish go far into the deep sea during hot weather. And since their fishing boats are small and not designed for deep sea fishing, catching was nothing.

Big trawl boats from elsewhere scraping the sea bed and getting all the fish is also one of the problems of the local fishing communities.

Farming and fishing are the two main sources of livelihood for the people of San Isidro. Now that they are kneeling at the foot of mercy, will the government run to their rescue?  The answer may not be suitable for a 64-dollar question! (Source: Citizens Disaster Response Center)

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