Rural groups cry foodless on World Food Day

By Roy Morilla, Gigi Babon and Gerry Albert Corpuz

Quezon City, Philippines—Four of the biggest rural based organizations in the country–the farmer’s group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), the agricultural worker group Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and the Amihan peasant women federation on Friday declared “World Foodless Day” as the global people celebrate World Food Day.

The World Food Day is celebrated every October 16 after the United Nations (UN) established the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO)on the same day in 1981 or 28 years ago.

In a rally held at the Department of Agriculture, farmers and fisherfolk activists, KMP and allied groups said lack of food and hunger among food producers in the country has been a running nightmare among peasants and rural people all over the country.

KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos said landlessness is the principal reason why farmers and rural producers remain poor and hungry and injustice continues to thrive in every farming and fishing area across the country.

“Today is supposed to be 28th year of UN’s World Food Day. But there’s nothing to celebrate. In fact, our problems were further exacerbated by state sponsored calamities and disasters in partnership with their foreign clients,” added Ramos.

The KMP official was referring to the storm Ondoy and typhoon Pepeng and the mass flooding in Cordillera and Northern Luzon provinces, the Central Luzon and Southern Luzon region, including the current sorry state of Laguna Lake.

For his part, Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap dared UNFAO officials to come to the country and investigate the government and big business destruction of major food baskets and food resources across the archipelago.

“It is high time for UNFAO to send its people to investigate the Philippine government and crimes of their transnational clients to the Filipino people. The request for UNFAO to dispatch a probe team to look into the serious food problem in the country is long overdue,” added Hicap.

KMP said the food problem was worsened by the two successive typhoons that recently hit the country. The peasant group said storm Ondoy and typhoon Pepeng already brought damage to agriculture and fisheries amounting to P 13.2 buillion, resulted to the death of 632 farmers and rural people and destroyed 140,156 houses in the countryside.

In the same vein, Pamalakaya complained that the Department of Agriculture (DA) is only interested in rehabilitating destroyed fishpens and bangus farms in Pangasinan and other parts of Western and Central Luzon, and agriculture secretary Arthur Yap did no mention of any help or assistance to small fishermen affected by typhoon Ondoy and Pepeng.

Secretary Yap will allocate P 2,500 per hectare for tilapia fishponds at 50 centavos per fingerling and P 1,750 per hectare for bangus farms at 35 centavos per fingerling, but he is silent to the legitimate demand of small fisherfolk for relief and rehabilitation.

An average of P 2,125 per hectare for 8,356 hectares of damage fishery areas, restocking could reach P 17.7 million. According to DA Central Action Center chief Maritess Bernardo some 5,000 tilapia fingerlings and bangus fries will be provided to affected fishponds and bangus farms in Central Luzon. Again there was no mention of small fisherfolk in the rehabilitation blue print of the agency.

“We are totally abandoned and neglected by Sec.Yap and his principal in Malacanang. We are the main fish producers in this country, but nothing is being planned to keep us maintain the wheel of production,” Pamalakaya added.

The estimated cost of rehabilitating damaged aquaculture farms in Central Luzon is part of the P 682 million fund earmarked by the agriculture department to repair damages to agriculture and fisheries caused by typhoon Ondoy and Pepeng.

On July, 2008, in the aftermath of typhoon Frank, our group submitted a proposal to DA and to the the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to accomodate the demand of the small fisherfolk for relief and production subsidies to small fisherfolk. A petition letter urging these agencies to set aside production subsidy of P 5,000 per fisherman who owns and operates a small motorized banca, while those operating non-motorized boat should at least receive P 2,500 per person was coursed to Secretary Yap’s office.

“This is to ensure that small fisherfolk can continue to operate and provide the fish needs of population. eighty percent of the proposed production subsidies will go to procurement of gasoline and fixing of damaged boats and fishery tools. But this demand remains in oblivion”, said Pamalakaya.

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