Selling the farms they inherited and have tilled for decades is becoming a practical option
The “tricycle capital of the Philippines” lies in the highly urbanized city of Cabanatuan, located in the province of Nueva Ecija, one of the major rice growing provinces of the Philippines.
But before reaching the city proper, rice fields along the highway would make Cabanatuan seem like a quiet and peaceful place.
Sadly, it is far from that. The highly urbanized province that was once an agricultural haven is now filled with subdivisions, industrial lots, banks, businesses, pawn shops, car and motorcycle dealers. Big land developers have also infiltrated this once agricultural city, with over 50 subdivision and residential buildings sprouting over the years.
Huge land developers like Asia Pacific, Sta. Lucia Realty, Vista Land and Lifescapes Inc., and Ayala Land have made inroads in Cabanatuan, turning former rice fields into real estate developments.
Although this could be a sign of progress in the city, its residents are the ones that are most affected. In a province like Nueva Ecija, farming is still considered the main source of livelihood for residents who have grown up in rice fields, or “bukid” in Tagalog.
Michael Herrera, or Mike, is a 34-year old farmer who has been working in the rice fields for 20 years.
“Bukid talaga nakagisnan namin. Bata pa ko nasa bukid na ko [Since I was young, I have been living and working in the field.],” he told The Manila Times.
“Ito ang namana naming sa magulang namin, nakatulong din ang pagsasaka sa pamilya namin. [This is what we have inherited from our parents, it has helped our family a lot],” Mike added, as he shyly tells his story on what it is like to be a farmer.
Another farmer, Rodolfo de Guzman, is a 73-year old veteran also in the rice fields. “Mang Rudy” as he likes to be called, also inherited his farmland from his mother-in-law, and was able to send his children to college through his work as a farmer.
“Ang mga anak ko’y tapos na, nakapagtapos ako ng mga anak dahil sa pagsasaka. Yung isa kong anak maestra, yung isa, IT. [My children have already graduated from college. One is a teacher, and the other is into information technology],” Mang Rudy cheerfully shared with The Times.
Although three of his four children went on to become blue-collared professionals, one of his children remained with him in the rice fields, and Mang Rudy is thankful that he has someone to help him in their farm.
“Yung pangalawa kong anak, yun ang katulong ko sa bukid; 28 na siya. Yun na rin ang hanap buhay niya, mahilig sya. Sa apat kong anak, siya lang ang nagkahilig. Buti nga merong nagkahilig kung hindi, e di wala ako katulong. [My second child is the one who helps me in the field. He is 28 years old. That is his livelihood as well. Among my four children, he is the only one who likes to farm. It is good that one of my children likes farming, or else, I have no one to help me.],” Mang Rudy added.
But Mang Rudy admitted that being a farmer is really hard.
“Naku, mahirap ang magsaka. Unang una, nakabilad ka sa araw buong maghapon, at pag umulan, babad ka sa tubig – basa ka. Pag pinaliwanag namin sa iyo ang hirap ng magsasaka, baka maawa ka samin. [My gosh, farming is hard. First of all, you are soaked in the sun the whole day, and when it rains you are also soaked from water the whole day.
If we explain to you how hard it is to be a farmer, you might pity us],” he said.
“Buong araw nakasalang ka, minsan madaling araw nakasalang ka na. Magtitiis ka ng kagat ng lamok, kagat ng niknik. Mga alas kwatro palang gising ka na, at pag inabutan ka ng tirik ng araw, maghapon ka sa init, at kapag naabutan ka ng ulan, maghapon kang basa.
Yun ang hirap ng magsaka. [The whole day you out in the field. Sometimes, early in the morning, you are already in the field. You will have to endure mosquito bites, insect bites.
As early as 4 a.m. you are already awake, and when you are not finished at the height when the sun is up, then you’ll be under the sun the whole day, and when it’s raining, you’ll be soaking wet the whole day. That is the hardship of farming],” Mang Rudy reiterated, emphasizing the hard work a farmer has to endure.
But pity is not what these farmers want. To them, it is enough to farm in their land, to be with their family, and to live a simple life. They have inherited this work from their parents, they have grown up helping in the farms, and they hope to pass it on to their children.
“Ang pagsasaka ang nagparal sa mga anak ko, ang bumuhay sa aming pamilya, kaya meron pang kinabukasan ang industriya. [Farming helped my children finish school, has helped my family survive, that is why there is still a future in the farming industry],” Mang Rudy shared to The Times.
While Mang Rudy complains about the hardships of farming, his younger counterpart Mike believes that more “kids” are into farming now, simply because like him, farming is what kids grow up to.
Better to quit
But the 50-year old Cecilio Apostol, or “Tata Celio,” believes that in the future, there will be no more farmlands left in Cabanatuan because of the massive selling of lands by their owners.
“Alam mo, hindi malayong pag dating ng panahon, mauubos na ang lupa dito sa kakabenta. Yung kinakatayuan ng SM ngayon, sinaka ko yon noong araw! Itong kinatatayuan natin, bukid ito dati… kaya kitang kita mo lahat, kaya lang ginawa ngang subdivision kasi malapit sa highway. [You know, it’s not far that when the time comes, there will be no more farm lands here because the owners are selling it. I used to farm the land where SM mall stands now. Even here, where we stand now, used to be farm land, but it was made into a subdivision because it was close to the main highway],” he said.
According to him, it is more ideal for land owners to sell their lands.
“P250,000 puhunan mo, ang kita mo P 250,000. Eh kung offer ka ngayon ng negosyante ng P1 million per ektarya sa limang ektarya mo, ang tanong, kelan ko maiipon ang limang million sa buhay mo bilang magsasaka? [The cost of inputs for farming is about P250,000, and your profit is P 250,000. If a businessman offers you P1 million per hectare for your five hectares, the question is, when will you be able to save up P5 million as a farmer?” Tata Celio asked.
To Tata Celio, the farming sector is on a downward spiral and in the future, the Philippines may have to rely on imports for its rice supplies.
"Wala na ang industriya, hindi malayong mag import nalang tayo ng mag import ng bigas. [The industry is gone. It is not far that we will just import our rice],” he said before heading back to his farm that he believes will soon be gone.
Unfortunately, the stories of Mike, Mang Rudy and Tata Celio are not unique to farmers in Cabanatuan City. And even the rapid urbanization Cabanatuan is experiencing, that has resulted in poor farmers selling their lands, is not unique.
If what is happening in Cabanatuan is becoming commonplace throughout the archipelago, then the country’s goal of permanent food self sufficiency is in danger of failing. The country will have no recourse but to import the basic foods it needs like rice and corn to feed its people.
For Philippine agriculture, this is very bad news indeed.