Human face: Food sovereignty

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Arze Glipo

Philippine Daily Inquirer | 07/30/2009

By Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

"Why should we prioritize the production of corn to feed animals in Korea when we cannot even feed all the Filipino people?" asked Arze Glipo, lead convenor of the Task Force Food Sovereignty (TFFS). Think about that.

A number of readers sent feedback on last week's column piece ("Global land grab, agricolonialism") and expressed alarm. One came from a Korean who felt shame that Korean companies are out to take over vast tracks of land in the Philippines and in other developing countries in order to meet Korea's needs for food and biofuel. Korea is not the only country doing this.

A Filipino working in an organic farm in Hokkaido, Japan also sent a letter. Another letter came from Alice Raymundo who belongs to the Task Force Food Sovereignty network. The NGO's name tells you there is reason to watch over our farmlands lest they fall into the hands of powerful countries that have only their own interest at heart. We used to think that sovereignty was only about territorial authority of the political kind. Now we can see that it also has something to do with the food on our table.

Here are excerpts from Raymundo's letter:

"Thanks for your column piece 'Global land grab, agricolonialism.' We really need to shed more light on this alarming trend of 'leasing' large tracts of land to agri-business corporations because it endangers all of us Filipinos, especially poor farmers who will be more marginalized from land. This trend also poses a very serious threat to our food security and our national sovereignty.

"At the rate the country's agricultural land is being leased to foreign corporations, the government may not even need Charter change to lift the prohibition on foreign ownership of land. Note that the 'lease' could last up to 50 years, as in the case of the contract with Pacific Bio-Fields Holdings involving the lease of 400,000 hectares in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, which is almost equivalent to a farmer's entire farming life. This means that the youth in the countryside of Pagudpud, for instance, would not be able to use the land until after 2059 or only when they are about 68 years old!

"We agree with you that there should be a mechanism to monitor and to regulate all these land transactions. Considering the recurrent rice crisis that we experience, the last one in 2008 barely resolved, we may also add that there should be a moratorium on the lease of irrigated farmland. There should also be ban on shifting the use of rice land for the production of agro-fuel crops and other export crops.

"I do not know if you have heard of the Philippine Agricultural Development and Commercial Corp. (PADCC), an agency under the Department of Agriculture. It looks like it may have a lot to do with the lease of land to foreign corporations. Look at their website, www.philagribiz.com, and see the amount of land that is up for lease to interested parties.

"In a recent interview, a PADCC official explained that the corporation's main purpose is to overcome the legal and logistical obstacles that foreign or domestic entities have in the Philippines in creating large agri-business facilities.

"He said that when a company, particularly foreign, wants to purchase large areas of land in the Philippines, it would be nearly impossible (for the company) to deal with the numerous small land owners. PADCC then acts as an intermediary for large-scale land consolidation. Land consolidators go around individual communities to persuade them to lease their land to the agribusiness and they negotiate the terms between the investor and the small holders.

"PADCC's role also involves helping resolve tenurial issues which could mean interacting with the Department of Agriculture, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

"Looks like PADCC has its hands full with all the current and prospective land leases it is working on, including one with Saudi Arabia, Korean Electric Power, Unilever and San Miguel Corp."

In a statement, TFFS's Glipo denounced the awarding of 400,000 hectares to Bio-Fields Holdings when there is a food crisis. "It is pathetic that the government can simply give away this much land for the production of coco-diesel for export when we have just barely solved the rice crisis last year," Glipo said.

Glipo added that the awarding of land, and for free at that, betrays "the government's lack of sincerity in its food self-sufficiency aims." If the same hectarage will be utilized for rice production, Glipo said, it will generate an additional 1.2 million metric tons of rice, an amount that can cover a significant portion of our annual rice deficit.

"What good would a handful of jobs that Pacific Bio-Fields promises if we continue to jeopardize the country's food production?" Glipo asked.

TFFS had earlier also expressed outrage over the news that the government had leased, yet again, 94,000 hectares of agricultural land in Mindoro to a Korean corporation, Jeonnam Feedstock Ltd., to grow corn feed for 25 years.

"Is the government bidding out the entire country?" Glipo asked. "The present government seems to consider only the very narrow and most immediate gain from such transactions and completely disregards both the short- and long-term development goals of the country."

TFFS is calling for an immediate stop to all future land leases and a suspension of all existing leases to foreign corporations. Otherwise, the country will end up importing more food in the future.

Raise the alarm.
Original source: Philippine Daily Inquirer
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