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Agrarian reform has been a longstanding issue in the Philippines. Now armed with the benefit of hindsight, proponents of change are arguing that there is nothing inherently wrong with the landowner-tenant relationship. In fact, they believe that such a relationship is crucial for fostering a highly productive agriculture sector.
Land distribution is an important aspect of agrarian reform, but it should not be the sole focus. Instead, we should explore ways to support and empower farmers to become prosperous and efficient food producers. By providing them with the necessary resources, training and opportunities, we can ensure the success and sustainability of the agricultural industry in our country.
It is important to recognize that land distribution alone does not guarantee agricultural productivity. We need to go beyond the initial step of granting land to farmers and provide them with the tools and support they need to thrive. Access to credit and financial resources is critical for farmers to invest in their operations and improve their productivity.
Former agriculture secretary William Dar and I agree that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is poised to make a significant impact on the country’s future in agriculture. His first step came through the condonation of loans of Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) beneficiaries. The recent passage of House Bill 6336, which formalizes the condonation of CARP beneficiaries’ loans, will free farmers from the burden of debt. This means they will now have more resources at their disposal to invest in their farms, purchase inputs and adopt new technologies. This, in turn, can lead to increased productivity and rural economic growth.
To further strengthen the agrarian reform initiative, it is crucial to address the challenges that farmers face in accessing credit. Currently, banks are unable to accept the Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) as collateral for loans, effectively restricting the financial options available to farmers and preventing them from expanding and modernizing their operations. Succeeding legislative measures should take this into consideration so that farmers can use their land titles as collateral, thereby improving their access to credit and financial services.
In addition to credit access, technology transfer and mentorship are vital components of successful agrarian reform, especially if you approach it from an entrepreneurship perspective. Farmers need to have the knowledge and skills required to adopt new agricultural practices and take advantage of technological advancements. Artificial Intelligence has been all the buzz since it was made more accessible late last year, and it can revolutionize farming by providing weather simulations, suggesting optimal planting strategies and identifying efficient fishing routes. Imagine if we could disseminate these innovations through agricultural research and extension services so that farmers are able to make informed, science-based decisions.
But we need not imagine it to be a far-fetched idea. Universal Leaf, through its president, Winston Uy, has offered to make similar technologies available to local farmers, through partnerships like the one we have at the Kapatid Angat Lahat Agri Program (KALAP) as a platform for collaboration between farmers and private companies. These partnerships can facilitate access to markets, provide technical expertise and create value chains that benefit both farmers and agribusinesses. By working together, farmers and the private sector can tap into new opportunities, boost productivity and promote sustainable agricultural growth.
Moreover, promoting land-lease arrangements among CARP beneficiaries and potential investors could lead to economies of scale and enhance agribusiness opportunities. This will allow farmers to lease their lands to the private sector, enable them to pool resources, share risks and benefit from specialized knowledge and expertise. This can lead to increased efficiency, improved access to markets and enhanced competitiveness for farmers. Encouraging and supporting such partnerships can create a conducive environment for the growth and development of the agricultural sector.
In order to fully realize the potential of agrarian reform, it is important to move beyond the mere distribution of land. While land ownership is a crucial aspect, it is only the starting point. The hard lesson of the land reform program is that land ownership does not necessarily result in prosperity; one only needs to look around and see poor landowners.
In order to ensure long-term success, we must provide farmers with production support, access to markets and assistance in forming cooperatives or organizations. Consolidating and organizing agrarian reform beneficiaries can facilitate economies of scale, enable collective marketing and empower farmers to negotiate better prices for their produce.
Furthermore, land reform should not be seen as an end in itself, but rather as a means to achieve broader goals of rural development and poverty reduction. By empowering farmers, we can improve their standard of living, enhance education opportunities for their children and contribute to overall rural economic growth. Successful examples from countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan demonstrate the positive impact of agrarian reform on industrialization and economic development. The experiences of these countries highlight the importance of providing comprehensive support to farmers, including access to credit, technology and market linkages.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the landowner-tenant relationship in the context of agrarian reform. One expert who has studied this intensely over the years has observed that we have held on too long to notions of the oppressive landowner taking advantage of the poor tenant. Larger barangay populations, globalization and social media have all but rendered the archetypal evil hacendero all but extinct. That many arrangements are now practically sharecropping says a lot about how landowners and tenants have found a way to harmoniously work together.
By focusing on empowering farmers and providing them with the necessary support, we can create a highly productive agriculture sector. This requires addressing challenges such as access to credit, technology transfer and market linkages. Partnerships between the private sector and agrarian reform beneficiaries can also play a crucial role in driving agricultural growth. Agrarian reform should not stop at land distribution; it should be a comprehensive and ongoing process that ensures the prosperity of farmers and contributes to rural economic development.