Philippine Rice Farmers of Pila, Laguna
The Plight of Rice Farmers in Pila, Laguna
Rice farmers abound in the countryside, where you see them going about in the fields and checking out on how their crops are doing. Rice is usually a primary crop, with vegetables and the raising of farm animals like --- hogs, chickens, ducks, goats, water buffalo and cows, as a secondary activity. Rice farming is the primary source of earning in Pila, Laguna, a town in a province south of Metro Manila. Most farmers belong to the lowest echelons of society, and for them to have a more comfortable life, some family members either go into business, or work abroad as OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers).
Mechanics of Rice Farming
There are two cropping seasons in the Philippines---the wet and the dry. The former encompasses the months of July to December; the latter, from January to June. Farm areas that are irrigated would not pose much of a problem during the dry season, since there is a source of water for their fields. Most of these farms are found north of Manila like those in the provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac and Pangasinan. On the other hand, a number of farms in Pila do not have a water irrigation system. This is attributable to the lack of adequate planning on the part of the local government. A decade ago, when the technical team from the Department of Agriculture inspected the waterways, they found that a whole stretch of the water system has been converted into residential areas.
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Hence, rice farmers near the bay area, like those in Pila, Laguna, suffer in having non-irrigated fields. Unless the local government exercises political will into rehabilitating the irrigation canals, the plight of farmers will remain bleak and uncertain. This situation makes farming more expensive for farmers since they need to use diesel fuel to water their farms. If the cost of diesel fuel increases in the world market, farmers may opt to lessen other farm inputs like fertilizers, chemicals, and pesticides so as not to overshoot their budgets and incur a loss.
Facts about Rice Production in the Philippines
- The Philippines is home to the world-renowned International Rice Research Institute, (IRRI) where several varieties of rice are tested in research stations;
- Despite the new varieties of rice being developed, dissemination to farmers have been slow and lackadaisical;
- The country has not achieved self sufficiency in rice production, and importations are still resorted, to back up the needs of the market;
- Rice production constitutes to around 70 percent of the population's source of income. However, there is still inadequate financial and technical assistance given by the government to this sector.
Cost of Farm Inputs
The cost of farm inputs include --- fertilizers, pesticides, labor cost for planting, re-planting, weeding, and harvesting. It also includes the threshing of the harvested grain that costs the farmer 10 percent of his yield. By rule of thumb, the operation expenses range from P20 to P30 thousand per hectare. Beyond P30,000, the rice farmer must harvest at least 100 cavans per hectare in order to earn; below that yield would mean insurmountable losses to the farmer.
For farms in Pila, Laguna, or those within the bay area (Laguna de Bay), crops during the rainy months, oftentimes face a grave risk of being flooded during typhoons. In some instances, harvestable crops are lost when the flood waters suddenly rise above the barangay roads. When that happens, all investments are gone and the rice farmer can only pray that he gets back what he has invested in the next cropping season.
Estimated cost of Farming Operations/ hectare
Farm Inputs per hectare
Irrigated Farm (P)
Non-Irrigated Farm (P)
Palay certified seeds)
Fertlizer, chemicals, pesticides
Farmers do not have access to traditional sources of financing---that when calamities strike, they have nowhere to go but to the usurious lenders. They need the funds for start-up operations, like: land cultivation and preparation, planting, chemicals for weeds and snails, fertilizers - urea and organic prior to planting, and watering of the fields. The amount that he needs to borrow is from P15 to P20 thousand per hectare, so he can plant. This amount should be enough for inputs of at least --- two to three fertilizers, pesticides, diesel fuel, weeding, and harvesting.
Nonetheless, rice farmers have the option to go to the Quedancorp or the rural banks to borrow money for their operation. However, since most rice farmers have little schooling, the exigencies of borrowing from traditional lending institutions are something that is alien to them. As a consequence, they are left to borrow from usurious lenders, who lend money with an interest of one cavan per thousand pesos lent, per cropping season. This all boils down to more than 100 percent interest every six months. This would naturally kill off the rice farmer, with debts piling up as fast as he can plant rice.
Government Assistance to Rice Farmers
Government assistance is normally coursed through the local chapter of the Department of Agriculture (DA). The DA technicians visit the farms and inform the farmers on the programs of government that can be adopted in the fields. These would include new seed varieties of rice and vegetable crops; and in giving technical advice. They sometimes give out a kg. of mother seeds for replanting. They also lend out agricultural equipment for corn decobbing, rice dryers, and blowtorch for rat control, if available.
The technicians sometimes announce that the local government is giving out one cavan of urea fertilizer per hectare to farmers when calamities strike. These announcements are generally met with skepticism since the dole-outs do not usually happen as announced. Nonetheless, there were also times when they make good their promise, of giving out a sack of urea fertilizer and a liter of booster spray. The group often wonders why there is inadequate assistance when agriculture is a government priority and fund allotments have always been in place in the national budget every year.
With the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) debacle that recently rocked the government hierarchy, it became apparent why no assistance trickled down into this marginalized sector. Funds for agriculture were diverted into the hands of unscrupulous government officials and agencies. Had the funds not been diverted, self-sufficiency in rice production would have been achieved as early as last year. If agriculture is a government priority, assistance to farmers should be given due importance in the form of --- farm to market roads, basic infrastructure like palay dryers and harvesters, blow torches for rat control, and the lending program of harvest equipments for farmers. New varieties of rice can also be given to farmers regularly so they can have mother seeds with which to plant and boost their outputs. This assistance was given sporadically in the past, and rice farmers will only be too happy if more of it are given in the future.
The Price of Rice and Farm-gate Prices
In 2014, the price of palay has increased from P13 to around P21 to P22 per kg, at ex farm gate prices. Nonetheless, not all of the increase benefited the farmers. Farm inputs, like diesel fuel, have also gone up to such extent that it wiped out any gains derived from the increase in palay prices. The Department of Agriculture has dealt with spiraling price increases of rice in public market from the manageable P27 to P33 average price per kg, to the current price of P48 to P58 per kg. This price is beyond the reach of a typical Filipino family.
The Bottom Line
The programs of government to farmers like those in Pila, Laguna, who comprises to around 70 percent of the country’s labor force, must include both technical and financial assistance. This sector has thrived on meager subsidy from the government for so long; and their numbers are slowly dwindling, due to limited earnings and the high risk involved in planting.
They say that the government’s success can be seen if there is food sufficiency in every Filipino home. If government policies could make inroads into the farming sector, only then do we say that self-sufficiency in rice production would have been attained. When that happens, less Filipinos will go hungry, and the government would have achieved its dreams of alleviating poverty and attaining self-sufficiency in rice production. A dream at this time, but may come into fruition in the next few years. With good governance, the poor farmers of Pila, Laguna would only be too happy, to see programs of government heading into their direction...
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