Small is big

World Food Day is celebrated this week and my thoughts are turned toward the small farmers in the country, mostly not owners of the land (a sign that democracy is not fully operational in the country, a sign that despite our mimicry of the first world’s culture and economic system, the foundation – the people – are still in chains). The country does not have a policy for how to secure food for its citizens, now and into the future. The farmers visualized are like weeds left to grow on vacant lot, tolerated as long as the lot is idle. Anyway there is a wide array of non-local choice of say rice from which consumers can pick from, according to their ability and willingness to pay. Into the 21st century and still Filipino farmers are working the fields with their hands, carabaos and cows whereas it doesn’t take half a year to have rice imports delivered. For what are the country’s farmers planting till the setting sun if their produce can’t compete in this market? Bahay kubo should now have this phrase inserted, “neither is rice as the only food from dawn to sunset fun”.

Large scale and complex problems would overwhelm anyone even the most enthusiastic first-timer president, but as what’s done in offices by overwhelmed workers, one item at a time will eventually clear one’s table and list. The country’s agriculture is a stunted child, it has not shown what it’s fully capable of yet it’s a declining sector. It should be revived.

An article from The Guardian’s Poverty Matters mirrors the local situation here:

Small farmers get a bad press: developing country governments often see them as a developmental throwback and hanker after the glitter of modernity offered by large-scale investment in biofuels or export crops. Aid agencies and donor governments with more money than staff prefer the scale the big farms can offer. But there are at least two good reasons for sticking with a small-is-beautiful approach.

First, investing in small farmers brings a developmental double whammy: it helps put food into circulation and at the same time boosts the income of some of the poorest people on the planet – small farmers. It is an enduring and horrible irony that the people who grow the food are often also the ones who go hungry, because their crops are too paltry, or prices too low, for their harvest to see them through the year. Jobless agribusiness growth in the farm sector won’t help those people; boosting small farm output will.

Secondly, helping small farmers get access to the kinds of things big farmers take for granted – bank loans, technical support, land rights, can have a catalytic effect on their productivity. That particularly goes for women farmers, who in many countries grow most of the food, but have least access to such support. Forget all those myths about stick-in-the-mud peasants – most small farmers are businesspeople, keen to experiment, manage risk, break into new markets and better themselves.

The article also mentions a successful initiative which recognized small farmers, spearheaded by Oxfam with local stakeholders in Bogota.


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