THE property developers – the kind that build, among other things, those towering monstrosities that look like USSR-era tenements — recently released data that was news to us small farmers ( and a shocker, too.) Drawing from supposedly official land use data in the Asean Region, they claimed that the Philippines has the largest volume of land still devoted to agriculture in the region, more than the prodigious agri exporters such as Thailand and Vietnam.
More than Vietnam and Thailand, would you believe !
Pathetically, they segued into their central theme, though stated subtly. Agriculture, since it cannot make the most out of the land devoted to producing food, should give way to property developers (the lead group of a sector called real estate) who are committed to gentrifying every square inch of urban and rural hellhole with those mass housing sites barely fit for human habitation. Or those towering monstrosities such as the one that obscured our clear view of Gat Jose’s presence at the Luneta. Now known as the Torre de Harang.
In short, this was what the developers’s said. Why not relax already-inutile land use laws so we can transform every square meter of land in this sad sack of a country into jungles of ugly concrete? Why not just forget about the agriculture sector and make us in charge of all Philippine lands? Because (at least they were upfront on this) we can show you the money.
Meanwhile, the agriculture sector is this: Loser, loser.
The data released was a shocker because we small rice farmers know this by heart. Thailand and Vietnam have about 12 million hectares of productive rice farms between them, fully supported by government through their respective irrigation agencies. Not to mention the cheap credit farmers get from the formal credit system.
We have 1.5 to 1.9 million hectares of rice lands serviced by year-round irrigation. If just one of the major dams falters, the rice areas with adequate irrigation will drop to 900,000 hectares, or less than 1 million hectares. The total area devoted to rice, including the non-irrigated farms, does not exceed 2.5 million hectares.
To think that rice farming is the center of our farming universe, who and what use the land cited in the data released by the property developers? Where are those vast expanse of lands supposedly devoted to Philippine agriculture? Ok, the multinationals have plantations in Mindanao. But even at an inflated count, the total lands they use cannot top the 10-million hectare mark.
Yellow corn is the next most important crop. And our yearly production (the true data) does not even breach the 1 million metric tons level because of limited land devoted to yellow corn production.
All the statements about the sustained maize exports are bunk.
If you think that the careless use of data by the developers to promote their self-interest is an isolated case, think again. Data use here, in this sorry country of ours, is pliable and suspect. In other countries, outlier data, like the one being promoted by conservative groups in the US to counter the factual stats of government on inflation rate and debt, are detected outright and readily denounced as fraud.
Here, in a nation that can’t even count straight, the overall trend is to be reckless with data. There is no innocent, accidental manipulation of data, of course. Every reckless twisting has a purpose and is mostly to serve vested interests.
Again, let us go to an example of shameless manipulation of numbers, the real numbers on rice imports.
To counter the general impression that the Department of Agriculture is a deadbeat agency despite having two secretaries, Mang Procy Alcala told a TV special report that the country is 80 to 85 percent sufficient in rice, which his boss, Mr. Aquino had reported to the nation via his SONA address. The truth, however, was revealed by a farmers’ group that compared official rice imports by the Bureau of Customs in 2014, which was slightly above 1 million metric tons, with the ones tallied by international agencies monitoring commodity movements. Our total rice imports for 2014, the group revealed, was actually more than 2 million metric tons of rice.
The official data posted by the BOC on 2014 food imports revealed widespread understatement, if not fraud, once compared with those tallied by the more credible UN-affiliated institutions. Pork imports were understated, chicken meat imports were deflated in the official report. So was the volume of beef imports. The DA had a ready scapegoat – smuggling. But here is rub: Smugglers only smuggle when it is profitable and when there is a huge market void to fill.
The incompetence of the DA, whose mandate is to boost agricultural production across all sectors and food sub-sectors, is at the root of the market void.
Ok, this is the final disservice that the pliable use of data has done to the country. It has allowed Mr. Aquino to claim credit for non-existent improvement in our lives. Don’t believe all the newspaper reports that there have been across-the-board improvement in our lives. The gains under Mr. Aquino have been vacuumed upward and only crumbs were left to the 99 percent.
As to the SONA and Mr. Aquino’s data that showed a dynamic, forward-looking nation, this is how we should all take it. Don’t take him and his pliable data too seriously.