Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Farm Mechanization: Boon or Bane?

Philippine economic activity still revolves around its agricultural sector. This is highlighted by the performance of the Philippine economy wherein it posted high gains as indicated by its GDP that has been unprecedented for decades. Only that it has failed to be “inclusive” enough with growth being posted in manufacturing, services and even in the real estate sectors. But the agricultural sector continues to wallow below expectations and is even blamed for dragging down Philippine economic growth indicators. The rural areas of the Philippines account for 60% of its population and that poverty incidence for is naturally 60% of the whole country. The agricultural sector has suffered from declining employment rates and has been the subject of past articles here in Agriculture Philippines.

There have been decades of proposed solutions to cure what ails the Philippine agricultural sector from Land Reform to mechanization and yet the agricultural sector continues to be the laggard among Philippine economic sectors. This is the reason why there has been no inclusivity in recorded Philippine economic growth.

The traditional and romantic metric of Philippine agriculture has long been rice production. It is the main contention in ideological, economic and social debates for decades. The Philippine rice farming sector is romantically idealized in Amorsolo paintings during the pre-WWII period and is the poster for Philippine rural culture.

Philippine rural economy and culture revolves around the planting and harvest season of rice. The fiestas in rural Philippines is mostly scheduled around May of each year with May 15 with the most fiestas for its San Isidro de Labrador, patron saint of farmers. Each harvest time is the time to celebrate since this is the period where everybody is replete with cash and thanksgiving is given for the harvest that will tide the rural community until the next harvest of around September to October of the same year.

It is not only the land owners and farmers who till the land who have the money and largesse at this time. Planting and harvesting season usually requires additional labor from those who do not actually work the farms in between planting and harvest. There is a whole downstream industry dependent on such periods, especially of harvest. The additional labor hired will also get paid so as there is a surge of sales even in the pondahans (sari-sari stores) in the community. Demand for sugar, coffee, canned goods and even gin is at its highest during this agricultural phase.

Like any economic activity, the drive for higher income and revenues is also applicable in farming. Thus new varieties of higher yielding rice variants are introduced, more extensive irrigation and farming practices are developed and implemented.  This includes mechanization.

Although having been available for decades, rice harvesting/reaper machines in the Philippines went into wide use after 2013 after Congress passed the Agricultural and Fisheries Mechanization Law. This law gives incentives to farm owners to minimize their reliance on manual labor and utilize “cost-effective” machinery. The law’s objective is to maximize output in order to achieve National Food Security.

An invasion of reaper machines that started in 2014 has quickly deprived farm laborers of work during the harvest season. These reaper machines cut the rice stalks, winnow the grain from the stalks, and then bag the grain in cavans, completely replacing manual labor during the harvest season. As a result, unemployment and hunger have worsened among farm workers.

By 2014 these harvesting/reaper combines did what manual labor used to do. Its functions ranging from cutting the rice stalks, sorting the palay all the way to bagging/packaging the palay. Naturally, these machines did away with labor and had the unintended consequence of contributing to unemployment among farm workers. This has increased poverty in the rural areas.

With the loss of income from manual labourers, the downstream industries such as the sari-sari stores, market vendors and even those who provided threshing and winnowing services. The only beneficiaries are the farm owners used to pay the manual labourers 15 cavans of palay and 8 cavans for the owner of the thresher machines. 15 cavans are saved by the farm owners wherein an additional income of Php11,000 is earned by the farm owner out of a gross output of 100 – 120 cavans per hectare. This brings a net income of Php30,000 – Php35,000 per hectare. Filipino farm owners have an average landholding of 1.29 hectares. Without mechanization, it is already subsistence farming for them. For the landless farm workers, mechanization does not give them subsistence but threatens to wipe out their very existence. Unemployment will bring poverty and poverty is the fertile ground for crime.

The lack of foresight by Congress in formulating such a law, although with the intention of raising productivity only added to the poverty of the rural sector. What must be done for the 12 million that is affected by mechanization?

There must be a law that will provide a safety net for those directly affected by farm mechanization. Livelihood trainings, skills upgrading programs, access to capital for small enterprises or provide them land of their own to plant.

Otherwise, this is another step in the Invisible War on Philippine Agriculture.

About the Author

The Mail Man

Author & Editor

www.agricultureph.com - The Philippines' Web Magazine on Agriculture.

Post a Comment


Copyright © 2015 Agriculture Philippines ™ is a registered trademark.

Designed by Templateism . Hosted on Blogger Platform.