Desperation is writ large in an attempt by one Mo Hailong and six other Chinese to dig up genetically modified corn seeds from farms in Iowa, then attempting to send the seeds to their homeland. Filching such seeds on the ground has been deemed as a crime that threatens a nation’s economic and national security. But, China has to keep feeding about 1.36 billion mouths that would devour anything on two or four legs, excluding dinner tables, of course. Hunger is not averse to resorting to less-than-legal means to feed a populace that can go famished–thus, lying and bullying becomes the tack in their hegemonic bid to wrest control of the entire West Philippine Sea which, as experts cite, can generate as much as $20 billion yearly in fishery catch alone.
Stealing high-yield seeds of a food staple that will be grown in one’s homeland to feed one’s countrymen rings of dirt-plain patriotism. Indeed, agriculture remains a patriotic calling as reiterated by American statesman-scientist-author Benjamin Franklin: “There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war, as the Romans did, in plundering their conquered neighbors. This is robbery. The second (is) by commerce, which is generally cheating. The third by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God in his favor, as a reward for his innocent life and his virtuous industry.”
Down-to-earth patriotism of the sort even Gat Andres Bonifacio waxed poetic about—“Aling pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya sa pagkadalisay at pagkadakila gaya ng pag-big sa tinubuang lupa? Aling pag-ibig pa? Wala na nga, wala”— is mired in neglect. Such “patriots” are on in years—average age has been reckoned at 55, and dwindling in numbers, those next in line stymied by the tough work that steels the hips, as recent findings show, but turns up modest incomes.
Fresh opportunities and incentives including scholarships to nudge the youth into career pursuits in agribusiness can give the nation’s agriculture sector a much-needed shot in the arm, lawmaker-turned-presidential aspirant Sen. Grace Poe has seen to that in the legislative measures she has drawn that remains pending in the Senate.
Poe is setting her sights on corporate farming to attract private engagement in the agriculture sector and her envisioned Tulong Kabataan sa Agrikultura at Kabuhayan skills training program to impart agribusiness savvy to the young as the tools needed to bolster farm productivity and the nation’s food security. Poe’s measures aim to make a difference in the lives of 70 percent of the rural population largely dependent on agriculture, yet mired in grinding poverty.
“Much of the younger generation shuns farming because of its perceived hardships. Agriculture remains the backbone of our national economy, is the nation’s biggest employer that musters a meager 11 percent contribution to the gross domestic product. There has been a steady decline in student enrolment in agriculture, fisheries, and related courses. If this scenario continues unchecked, it will eventually redound to the limited human resource capital direly needed to spur growth and development in the agriculture sector,” she bewailed.
Poe believes that “opportunities in agriculture have to be created and made more lucrative to attract more young individuals to enroll in agriculture courses. Similarly, agriculture education policies and curricular programs have to be re-tooled to produce graduates who will not be simply job-seekers but will instead turn into agri-business managers and entrepreneurs who will eventually generate employment for their countrymen.”
Poe’s measure—Senate Bill #2989 filed in 2014– to push private investments in agriculture is cognizant of the fact that corporate farming has the advantage of integrating “the entire process of food production and provide more efficient management the entire chain of agriculture-related business including seed supply, agrochemicals, food processing, machinery, storage, transport, distribution, marketing, advertising, and retail sales.”
The Poe bill seeks to provide incentives to corporate farming that include exemption of customs duties on imported agricultural inputs particularly seeds, fertilizers, agricultural machinery, and farm implements; the bill also provides for tax incentives including income tax holiday.
The Philippines has more than 12 million hectares of its land devoted to agriculture– or about 43 percent of nearly 30 million hectares total land area. Compared to Vietnam that had to bring back to life vast stretches made barren by carpet bombing and extensive use of defoliants that nearly decimated every patch of grassland and cropland in a war of liberation waged against the United States, Vietnam devotes a mere 30 percent— or 9.4 million hectares—of their total land area to agriculture. Most times, we buy Vietnam rice to fill in production shortfalls.
Philippine agriculture deserves a new steward, maybe, someone like Poe who hasn’t left out farmers in her agenda.