Atty. Cej Jimenez, the current United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of the Internally Displaced Persons has conducted a Training on Right to Food to the 64 Farmer Leaders, Partners and student interns of Agro-Eco Philippines on March 16-18, 2017 at ARC, Maluko, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon.
The training was organized by Agro-Eco Philippines (formerly Masipag Mindanao, Inc.) in partnership with FASTENOPFER (Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund) and DKA Austria and in solidarity with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and CIDSE. It aimed to develop the capacity of the farmer leaders and development workers to advocate and to lobby for policies and programs to the government that would really address hunger and rural poverty.
Hunger worst in Mindanao
Contrary to its status being the country’s food basket, Mindanao has the highest incidence of hunger in all parts of the Philippines with 19.0% (978,000 families) or 4,585,797 persons compared to 14.0% in Metro Manila, 12.3% in Luzon, and 10.3% in Visayas according to the survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) from March to April 2016. The incidence of hunger in Mindanao has increased from 13.0% from the last quarter of 2015. Data from the government agencies coincides with this, and Mindanao remains to be the region where the incidence of hunger is highest over the past 10 years based on the assessment report of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
It is alarming to know that 8 of the top 10 poorest provinces in the Philippines are in Mindanao (please refer to Table 2). It is also in these provinces where the people have suffered from hunger worst than in any other areas.
Conventional farming and plantations drive the farmers to hunger
According to FAO report, agriculture is the sector which got the highest incidence of hunger in Mindanao with 24.6 percent, followed by 22.2 percent and 7.5 percent in mining and quarrying and manufacturing, respectively.
Mindanao has a total of 4.1 million hectares agricultural lands, of which 1.1 million (the figure is decreasing) are planted with the production of rice, the staple food of the Filipinos. But intensive expansions of plantations and land-use conversions are swallowing the staple food production areas of Mindanao.
At present, there are 243,450 hectares planted with Cavendish banana; 24,603 hectares planted with oil palm; 51,500 hectares planted with pineapple; 169,582 hectares planted with rubber; 98,000 hectares planted with sugarcane; 34,000 hectares planted coffee; and adding to the figures are 185,746 hectares planted with genetically modified corns, mainly herbicide-tolerant varieties.
Transnational corporations in collaborations with government agencies and numerous private organizations are targeting 1.6 million hectares for the expansions of Cavendish banana, 304,350 hectares for oil palm, 150,000 hectares for cassava, 80,000 hectares for rubber, and 150,000 hectares for cacao, with a total of 2,284,350 hectares. And if these targets are combine with the existing areas, then Mindanao would have 3.1 million hectares of its agricultural lands devoted to plantation crops for export market, which of course, would undermine the food needs of the local people and would results to severe and long-term environmental degradations.
No wonder why the poorest provinces in the Philippines with a highest incidence of hunger are those provinces with vast tracks of its lands being devoted to plantations and practices conventional farming such as Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, Lanao Del Sur, Sarangani, Bukidnon, Agusan Del Sur and North Cotabato.
Problems on land tenure and land distribution, feudalism, low agricultural wages, very exploitative agricultural financing schemes, malnutrition, lack of access to clean and potable water, child labor, disempowerment of women, and even poor public governance are common in the communities dominated by agricultural financiers and usurers, landlords, and plantations which all contributed to the high incidence of rural poverty and hunger.
But this situation is becoming worse now recognizing that climate change is already happening in Mindanao and posing a very serious challenge to its agriculture and food production system.
What is Right to Food and how significant it is to the situation?
The United Nations defines the Right to Food as “the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear.”
And the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) in which the Philippines is a story states that “every person is entitled to such an economic, political, and social environment that will allow them to achieve food security through their own means.”
The right to food has three major dimensions: availability, accessibility and adequacy.
Availability refers to enough food being produced for both the present and the future generations, therefore entailing the notions of sustainability, or long-term availability, and the protection of the environment.
Adequacy refers to the dietary needs of an individual which must be fulfilled not only in terms of quantity but also in terms of nutritious quality of the accessible food. It also includes the importance of taking into account non-nutrient-values attached to food, be they cultural ones or consumer concerns.
Accessibility (economic) implies that the financial costs incurred for the acquisition of food for an adequate diet does not threaten or endanger the realization of other basic needs (e.g housing, health, education). Physical accessibility implies that everyone, including physically vulnerable individuals, such as infants and young children, elderly people, the physically disabled, the terminally ill, and persons with persistent medical problems, including the mentally ill, should be ensured access to adequate food.
This means that the State (the Philippine government) is duty-bound to Respect, Protect and Fulfill the right to food of its people.
But why is it that there are millions of hungry Filipinos, farmers in particular? Why is it that the food producers are now foodless?
Certainly, there is a gross violation on the right to food of the farmers. This is gruesome. This is intolerable. And this must be changed!
Agroecology has the answers…