For a country with an agriculture-based economy, the government has not given farm workers all the support they need. For the most part, small farmers —as opposed to the hacienderos and big, corporate owned farms—have been left to their own devices.
Although there have been some attempts to provide the marginal farmers with soft loans, farm-to-market roads, education on modern farming techniques, and the like, these have not been on a massive enough scale to make a difference.
Not this government, in particular, but just about every government or administration in general since the post-World War II years has been guilty to varying degrees of letting down the men and women who till the land.
While in other nations like Japan, for example, farmers receive huge subsidies from the government, this has not been the case in the Philippines.
There is a price to pay for not prioritizing the needs of the farmers. The average income a small farmer makes is barely enough to keep body and soul together. Certainly it would be difficult to find anywhere in the country any small farmer living a comfortable middle class existence, complete with all the trappings of such a life.
Mostly, they do not even live in decent sized houses that can protect them against the elements, and they certainly cannot afford to buy brand new cars or giant flat screen TV sets.
As a result, farming has lost its attraction as a primary source of livelihood for the vast majority of the people, especially the youth. Statistics suggest that the Philippines’ aging population of farmers should be a serious cause for concern for the government’s economic planners.
Depending on where the data is coming from, the average age of the Filipino farmer is either in the mid-50s or late 50s range.
In other words, the average Filipino farmer is at an age where his or her health becomes an issue. That farmer is not as strong as someone in his 20s or 30s, yet the entire country is dependent on its food supply on the 50-somethings, who are so close to retirement age if they were working in offices, whether government or private.
Worst of all, the vast majority of Filipino farmers still till the soil by hand, mostly with the help of their carabaos. Unlike their US or Western nation counterparts who have the most modern farming machineries, the poor Filipinos plant their crops on pure muscle alone.
Even in Asia, other farmers seem to be better off. The percentage of Vietnamese, Indonesian or Malaysian farmers who are mechanized would very likely be much higher than their Filipino peers. And again, they too would most probably be recipients of subsidies from their governments.
To be sure, not everything is totally hopeless in the country.
More and more, Filipinos have come to realize that farming is indeed an excellent option as a source of income. There is a growing community of weekend farmers, mostly young and middle aged workers from the cities who are enamored with the idea of working the land and earning a decent income out of the activity.
They may raise livestock or they may plant crops. Their idea is to have the small farms that they own or lease serve as their fallback should anything happen with their regular employers. Also, they do not discount the possibility that they will eventually retire to their little farms, which can still earn a regular income for them in their golden years.
Those who take the idea of working the soil more seriously also have the option of mechanizing their operations. For them, the present administration has a program to provide the modern equipment they need at easy-on-the-pocket interest rates.
It would be unfair to romanticize farming in order to entice more people to go into the activity. By and large, it can be backbreaking work. But farmers need not be told how important they are to the very survival of the country. They provide the most basic of all our needs – food.
The Philippine farming sector is presently at a crossroads. It cannot be allowed to become a sunset industry. The present administration, and all the administrations that will follow in the years and decades to come, must give it the attention it deserves.
For as long as Filipinos need to eat, Filipino farmers should be there to supply their needs. In return, the farmers should earn enough to lead very decent lives.