November 16, 2013
I was preparing to come to Warsaw to share the Philippine experience in empowering young farmer-smallholders in a context of food security and well-being, when last Friday - Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest typhoon ever, hit my country. Typhoon Haiyan left too many people dead and left the survivors hungry, homeless and without harvest. When the storm surge and the direct relief stage subside, we have to question who has what capacities for recovery.
Typhoons do not discriminate between farmers and non-farmers. They do, however, discriminate between one economic status to another. A 300-kph typhoon like Haiyan is only from a meteorological perspective the same to everybody. In most other perspectives, the typhoon hits rich and poor people differently; it is a disaster that widens the gap between the rich and poor.
The rich have more and better opportunities for recovery – they have money in the bank, they have safe investments and most likely relatives and friends who are also wealthy. But the majority of the Filipinos who live day by day, have no cash deposits, their investments like poultry and fruit trees are blown away and their family and friends have equally lost their house and livelihood.
The reality is that our country’s poor do not have the means to effectively protect themselves from disasters and to cope with it. This does not only happen in the Philippines, of course, but now that we expect these disasters to happen more frequently and more unpredictably, we ask: How do we build on our resilience? How do we, young people, ensure that there is a sustainable investment for our future?
RURAL POVERTY AND LANDLESSNESS
More than half of the Filipino population lives in the country side where most of the country’s poor are concentrated. One third of the entire labour force is working in agriculture.
The Philippine society is still feudalistic, and landlessness is still a major cause of poverty.
Lands are concentrated in the hands of a few powerful and influential families. Most Filipinos are landless; the youth are almost always landless.
Agrarian reform is mandated in our constitution, which means that farm workers can apply for a piece of land of their own. It is a good social justice program, but it is inefficient due to bureaucracy and corruption.
For young Filipinos, living in the countryside does not hold a bright future. Most of them have low levels of formal education since they were pushed to work from pre-adulthood to support their families, or they ended up as school drop-outs with the pressures of balancing off responsibilities at home and at school. Without land and without education, their problems just grow exponentially.
LAND TENURE IMPROVEMENT
I am a member of the peasant organization called Task Force Mapalad. Task Force Mapalad is a federation of people’s organizations owned by farmers, farm workers, plantation workers, upland farmers, and indigenous peoples in 11 provinces in the Philippines. Currently the membership is about 30,000 with both women and men, young and old. This means a prospect of development for about 30,000 families.
Working with this organization, I have witnessed first-hand the bleak future of young Filipinos living in the countryside who do not own a piece of land. They do not have other opportunities but to work as contractual labourers during harvest season. They are mostly seasonal farm workers, if not jobless. They are involved in agriculture but in oppressive conditions. With no other options for a better income, they are forced to move to the big cities to work in the service sector – as waiters, construction workers, drivers, house-helpers and other informal jobs prone to exploitation.
Owning your own piece of land can make a difference. Why?
It impacts directly on a person’s household income and it builds self-esteem. As a contractual farm worker, it doesn’t matter how hard or how long you work. Making an extra effort will not earn you one cent more than the fellow next to you. Young farmers who own a piece of land is an entirely different story. If they own the land, they decide what crops to plant. They harvest what they plant. They invest and work harder on their own land to earn more. They decide about their own value-adding activities.
I’ve witnessed how the transformation of socio-economic roles – from mere landless farm workers to new land owners and managers – has enabled young farmers to collectively address and improve food security of their communities, raise their household income, gain access to education and healthcare, and so on.
However, we cannot merely depend on the government to give us what you need - not even if that is our fair share. We have to take ownership of our problem.
Task Force Mapalad supports claims for land through para-legal, negotiator and speaker’s trainings. With these trainings, farmers-to-be become empowered to deal with the government and other sectors and bring forth the issues encountered in the communities including human rights violence and inaction of the government to their land tenure applications. Legal and moral legitimacy of the farm workers’ claim to land results in successful campaigns for land rights even in the most contentious properties.
When you know the law, you know your rights. Such a statement may seem obvious, but for many landless young farmers in the Philippines, this statement does not ring true enough.
PRODUCTIVITY DEVELOPMENT SUPPORT
Having your own piece of land, though, is not quite enough to improve your livelihood. Working in the field is one thing, managing your own farm is something entirely different.
For those who have successfully acquired land from the government, it is necessary to raise their capacities as new land-owners especially on how to improve their crop yields so they can engage in better markets, eventually increase their income and build on their resilience.
To do so, Task Force Mapalad offers young farmers access to productivity trainings. We’re functioning like a platform: we link young people with Local Government units for extension work. Or we connect them with agriculture and technology schools for the provision of technology support.
Trainings include Farm Diversification, Integrated Pest Management and Sustainable Agriculture Technologies. In turn, these young farmers are motivated to share their gained knowledge to their communities.
CAPACITY BUILDING FOR ENTERPRISE DEVELOPMENT
Aside from being a farmer, a new land owner also needs to be a business person. That’s why we support farmers in developing their entrepreneurial skills. Our members take part in capacity building activities, they engage in campaigns and research, they set up small scale businesses. They improve their capacities to engage the mainstream markets, but also private corporations that may have specific demands for volumes, qualities and costs standards. By doing so, they make their cooperatives and organizations stronger and more capable of doing businesses.
Also as an organized group, we have been able to help young farmers establish producers’ groups - giving them a collective bargaining position, credible image and track record in accessing finance and other resources from various government and non-government agencies.
The youth become adept in business planning. Seeing the results, they become very enthusiastic about having the opportunity to increase their capabilities to become better managers of their enterprises.
A SUSTAINABLE AND RESILIENT FUTURE
The population of Filipino farmers is aging. The average age of Filipino farmers is between 55-59. While 60% of the working young people aged 5-17 are working in agriculture, there is a growing number of young Filipinos driven to the urban areas to find alternative livelihoods in the service sector so that they can feed their families. With last week’s huge calamity, this is just expected to worsen.
As such, working in the service sector is not bad, even more when it is a positive choice. But how do we give the youth the liberty of choice? Our approach of collectively empowering the rural youth by interlinking land tenure, productivity and enterprise development gives those who have no other options a sustainable means to fend for their family and to have greater chances of surviving in times of calamities. A chance to cope with disasters, to survive with human dignity and thereby build up resilience which means that even a typhoon like Haiyan does not force the farmers and the youth to leave their families and communities.
Karen S. Tuason
MSc student, Van Hall Larenstein Institute of Applied Sciences
Member, Task Force Mapalad, Philippines
See also this article in Jakarta Post