The Daily Tribune (Manila) | 07/31/2009
Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada has called on the government to seriously promote agriculture modernization, as he questioned the alleged "secret lease deals" of prime farmlands in the country to corporations of rich countries.
Estrada noted the lease deal on some 94 hectares of agricultural land in Mindoro to South Korean company Jeonman Feedstock Ltd. For 25 years for its corn production; on 600,000 hectares in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte to a Japanese investment group for biofuel production; on a 1.24 million hectares of local farmland earlier proposed to China; and, on another 100,000 hectares of prime farmland reportedly offered by President Arroyo to a Qatari venture.
"Instead of helping develop these lands for our own farmers’ benefit, is the government now in essence selling these prime, productive properties to foreigners?" Estrada, chairman of the Senate committee on labor, employment and human resources development and the joint congressional oversight committee on labor and employment, asked.
At the same time, the senator called national attention against what is becoming to be referred to as "agri-colonialism," "global land grabbing," or "neo-colonialism" or the perceived new wave of invasion of poor nations by the rich ones through agriculture.
The trend of leasing by rich nations of prime agricultural lands in poor countries like the Philippines has been brought to world attention through a report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) quoted in the July 2009 cover story of World Mission Magazine titled "The Global Land Grab, which said the Philippines is a "lease hotspot," warning that several other hundreds or thousands of hectares of arable lands might be subjected to such lease deals.
The IFPRI said the food crisis, increased pressures on natural resources, water scarcity and other global issues have forced rich nations such as South Korea, India, China and those in the Middle East to purchase or lease vast agricultural lands in poor countries such as the Philippines in order to ensure their own food security or agriculture resource.
But the IFPRI warned that these deals could be very disadvantageous to poor countries because of the potentially adverse effects to the subject lands’ environmental biodiversity due to intensive farming beyond the natural capacity of the lands and use of harmful technology to ensure fast production, and, to the culture, traditions and indigenous rights of the local communities.
The IFPRI also questioned the lack of transparency in these deals."We should take bold steps to modernize our agriculture now, especially in the face of the persistent global food crisis. The Philippines, being basically an agricultural country, has the great competitive advantage over most countries of the world in terms of ensuring food security and agri-business. The problem, however, is the lack of government investment in our countryside. Of course, we would also like to know why this government has been so aggressive in pushing these lease deals of our farmlands to the rich countries," Estrada said.