MANILA, June 22, 2014 — A group of Hacienda Luisita farmers on Tuesday criticized the sugar block farming program of the Department of Agriculture (DAR), noting its failure to work for the “best interest” of local farmers, pushing them closer to hunger, debt, and poverty.
“(The DAR) is out of (its) mind to say that their program is best for the interest of the farmers as it envisions to get us (working) together for the greater good of all and enhance our social capital,” Farmworkers Agrarian Reform Movement (FARM) Secretary General Rodger Amurao said in a statement released by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines National Secretariat for Social Action–Justice and Peace (CBCP-NASSA).
“It is an unjust imposition that disregards the farm workers’ right to choose which crops to produce, when, and how to produce them. This push for sugar cane block farming does not take into account the hunger situation of farm workers,” the FARM added.
The DAR, in partnership with the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), began to implement the sugarcane block farming scheme in 2012 to “increase sugar-cane production” and “make farming more economically viable.”
“It completely disregards the reality that patches of rice lands have been developed inside Hacienda Luisita through the sheer hard work of farm workers in line with their desire to solve hunger through food security in their respective households,” the statement read.
The block farming scheme is done as part of the sugar industry initiative to make the agricultural production process more cost-efficient and more profitable per area.
This is primarily done through encouraging farmers to group their lands—small farms of less than 10 hectares—together into an integrated farming block. A block farm should comprise an area of between 30 to 50 hectares.
FARM members claimed that the DAR is “putting undue pressure” on the farm workers “whose right to receive the full package of support services is premised on the implementation of sugarcane block farming.”
“By saying that ‘our farmworker-beneficiaries will have greater chances of enjoying support services if they organize themselves as farming blocks,’ the DAR is obviously using the delivery of support services as a leverage to pressure the farm workers into toeing-the-line in favor of sugarcane production,” the statement read.
The farmers lamented that the sugar block farming scheme has reduced the area to be redistributed to farm workers with the agriculture department assigning portions of the hacienda for access roads designed to support the farming scheme.
They added that the DAR’s promotion of sugarcane block farms “threatens to totally wipe out the food production areas inside the hacienda and will turn back the relative food security already achieved by some rice farming occupants.”
“There is no guarantee that farm workers will earn more from sugarcane production. In fact, FARM members’ experiences in the last five years offer a contrary view. In my case, rice farming can be a better farming system option for farm workers,” Amurao said.
“I hope they won’t force us to participate in programs that we do not like,” Amurao said in the vernacular, noting that the government should instead support the establishment of experimental farms for various farming systems to study the most ecologically sustainable and economically viable crops. (Jennifer M. Orillaza)