Letter to the Editor
June 24, 2009
Farmer-Scientist Group Says No to Public Land Lease to Foreign Corporations
This is in reaction to the article "Firm buys 400,000 hectares to plant coconuts." We, the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG Inc) believes that this move of the government (DENR, Phil Coconut Authority and the Office of the President) to lease huge tracts of public land exclusively to private hands (Pacific Bio-Fields Plc, a Japanese holding company based on UK and its local counterpart Bio-Energy North Luzon Inc) at "very affordable" rates for 25 years and renewable for another 25 years is the perfect recipe to another national rice and food crisis, perhaps maybe worse than the Food Crisis early last year.
Food security is tightly intertwined to access to land. In our country where a large portion of the population relies on agriculture as a source of livelihood, land disparity hurts most of our resource-poor farmers and their families. It is even worsened by continued trade liberalization on agriculture, climate change, increased price of farm inputs and government neglect and corruption. Our country only has a very limited area of arable land, but sadly these are being lost through land-use conversion which is very much prevalent. We must realize that the Philippines is a net importer of food since1995 and we are the number one rice importer in the whole world. By leasing lands, we increase our food insecurity and our country becomes at the mercy of the global market as what we have experienced during the height of the Food Crisis.
The Rice Crisis that we have experienced last year should be a "wake-up call" to our government to first prioritize local food production, implement market protection measures, invest more on agriculture and speedily facilitate genuine land distribution to the tillers. One option to address food security is to maximize "idle" land for local food production. In MASIPAG, we help farmers to make upland areas productive for their needs. Upland areas are planted with vegetables, corn, root crops and fruit-bearing trees. Thus idle lands are being utilized, farmers can even sell their produce, and food produced could also address micronutrient deficiency brought by lack of food diversity in rural areas. Food security can be speedily addressed only if the government is willing and humble enough to learn from the past and strive to serve its constituents.
If this project to lease land (400,000 ha) the size of the province of Masbate or Abra will push through, how will the Philippines address the fundamental need to achieve food security? If land, where the very foundation on which to build our food security and sovereignty is taken away, how can we be able to combat hunger and poverty that has plagued our country for so many years? By openly giving foreign corporations access to our public lands, farmers, communities and our nation will simply lose control over our land and our future. It is so hard to imagine how the government has conceded to produce fuel for other countries, whereas people in our country is everyday mired with problems on how to get food to the table.
It is also saddening that the government and private companies use the biofuel industry to advocate environment protection by hiding behind the legitimate sense of urgency to mitigate climate change. Yes, we need to mitigate climate change and there are many ways to do it. But the fact that land lease projects that are committed to export-oriented agribusiness could pose long term effects on food security and possibility of people being evicted from their land are basis enough to immediately cancel the agreement.
We therefore challenge the line agencies, legislators and the national government to look into the issue and immediately stop the leasing of public land to foreign corporations. Instead, public lands that have huge potential to ensure food security and nation building be distributed to the Filipino small farmers.
MASIPAG Inc2611 Carbern Vill
Anos, Los BañosLaguna, Philippines