CEBU, April 11, 2008 (STAR) INSIDE CEBU By Bobit S. Avila - The New York Times had an article entitled “High Rice Cost Creating Fears of Asia Unrest” written by Keith Bradsher who said, “Rising prices and a growing fear of scarcity have prompted some of the world’s largest rice producers to announce drastic limits on the amount of rice they export. The price of rice, a staple in the diets of nearly half the world’s population, has almost doubled on the international markets in the last three months. That has pinched the budgets of millions of poor Asians and raised fears of civil unrest.

“Shortages and high prices for all kinds of food have caused tensions and even violence around the world in recent months. Since January, thousands of troops have been deployed in Pakistan to guard trucks carrying wheat and flour. Protests have erupted in Indonesia over soybean shortages, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs… On Tuesday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines, afraid of increasing rice scarcity, ordered government investigators to track down hoarders.”

I only quoted the first paragraphs of the article, which should now bring us to this discussion or debate about the coming extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) which, whether you like it or not, is directly linked to our rice production. I was able to get hold of the speech that Silverio Berenguer gave before the Landowners Conference at the Bayawan Function Hall in Bayawan City, Negroes Oriental last March 26 wherein he said, “I agree with Secretary Arthur Yap when he said, ‘There is no rice shortage in the Philippines.’ What we have is a rice-land shortage!”

Berenguer was invited to speak before the United Negros Landowners for Democracy Inc. (UNLAD) as he is the president of the Council of Agricultural Producers Inc. (CAP) and a representative of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC). Reading his speech in its entirety, I fully agree with his thoughts that before we even think of extending CARP we must find out whether it is a success or a failure. Giving land to the landless is a meaningless exercise if it doesn’t help improve our productivity.

Already, two known personalities from the Catholic Church, namely Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales and Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, have openly declared their support for the extension of CARP because some 1.3 million hectares of land have remained undistributed. If you ask me, this is a very shallow reason for supporting the extension of CARP. What we want to know is whether this program was a success or not.

In a paper being distributed about CARP, our claim for success was summed up by this statement: “In the 34 years of agrarian reform, the government distributed 6.57 million hectares to 4.05 million farmer-beneficiaries. Our total land area is only 30 million hectares, of which less than one-half is arable land. At 34 years, our agrarian reform, in relation to our country’s size, is one of the largest and the longest programs to be enforced compared to other countries. DAR is now proposing to extend the CARP for another 10 years to complete the program and distribute an additional 1.2 million hectares at a cost of another P100 billion.”

This statement merely cites the success of CARP based on the number of lands distributed to farmer-beneficiaries. It doesn’t even state whether those farmer-beneficiaries are still farming those lands that they got from CARP. With dark clouds of a global food shortage looming in the horizon, I would like to believe that it is time for us to look more into our productivity performance levels rather than the mere distribution of lands to farmers that end up not farming them anyway.

This is what Berenguer asks: “What happened with CARP?” He then went on saying, “Productivity took a dive as irrigation systems were abandoned by many farmer-beneficiaries, and the land was left lying fallow. Note that in the 1960s, our irrigation system was hailed by the World Bank as one of the best in the world; yet by 2001, it had deteriorated badly due to corruption and lack of maintenance budget. An ill-advised Estrada policy (dubbed as pro-poor) crippled the NIA’s funds and its ability to do its job. This is according to Cesar Gonzales, National Irrigation Administration chief at that time.”

As Berenguer’s speech was very long and thorough, I have to cut it short and get into the meat of this issue. Toward the end, he said, “The World Bank has repeatedly aired its recommendation to scrap the program. Our own Land Bank executives have proclaimed many times that productivity has declined because of land reform. Even the principal author of CARP, Heherson Alvarez, has himself confessed that CARP failed to deliver on its promise, for the exact reasons cited by the DAR-GTZ study.” Now should we extend CARP? Only if it can improve our rice productivity. If not, let’s scrap it!

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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