Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Missed Train Never Catches Up

The Philippines imports rice because it finds satisfaction in dividing large farmland up into unsustainable family farms that produce nothing for the greater Philippines. I feel for poor people, too. And for the laborers who stoop under the hot tropical sun jamming rice plantings into the mud like so many chickens pecking at bugs.

Hacienda Aquino (I have decided to rename it, much as the South China Sea has been retagged the West Philippine Sea to signify certain involvements of certain interested parties) will be divided up among worker's families. Well, once the years of appeals are done, if ever.

American Agribusiness 1925 (JoeAm's Heritage)

4,500 hectares. 6,300 families. Less than a hectare each. Plus dividing up some 1.3 billion pesos, or around 200,000 pesos per family, if those 6,300 families get the money. I'm not too clear on that.

But I know enough to ask, "How will the enriched farmers till the soil? In the modern way, with equipment and the best seedlings  in healthy soil, protected by the best pesticides?"

No. No.

In the Philippine way. The way that will assure poverty from here to eternity, for the road to prosperity is blocked by inefficient farming and the cost of buying rice abroad. Sustenance farming. Not first-class export farming. Farms that bleed the government coffers dry.

And until the Philippines is engaged in productive thinking and practices, labor wins out over equipment and efficiency and quality of method and product. And the waste is amplified by the tax money spent to purchase rice from Viet Nam. Or wherever they are getting it these days. Good money. Tax money. Spent in Viet Nam because Philippine farms can't satisfy Philippine needs.

But everyone sure feels good, now that workers are getting some land.

The Competition Gets It
My own tears are for the nonsense to be found in this economic model. It is not agribusiness, for sure. It is pathos-business. Which is more art than science, the art of conjuring up emotions for people who will be trapped forever in poverty because people feel sorry for them, short term.

I feel sorry for them long term. Until someone summons up the courage to break the woebegotten labor model in order to piece together large, efficient farms, the Philippines is consigned to poverty, bound to need, and unable to feed its own population.

Summon up the perspective and courage to ride through a rough patch, the transition from labor to mechanical, and most people come out the other side wealthier, healthier and wiser. They won't stoop to plant rice. They'll work in transportation, packing houses, marketing, accounting, bio-labs.

There will be a lot of words written during the coming weeks and months about Hacienda Aquino and the poor farmers. And it is ALL off the mark, irrelevant, a discussion that does nothing to make the Philippines wealthier. It is just the stuff of drama, of accusations and counter-accusations, of a President judged guilty by association. It is a glorious side-show with absolutely no relevance to important matters.

I'm sick of it already, whether the argument is for or against the Aquino interest, for I find in the debate the pro-forma reason why the Philippines is so backward and poor. It's called missing the mark. Getting it wrong. Whacking trees and bludgeoning the forest. Arriving at the train station a couple of centuries after the last train has left. It is almost 2012, and the nation is still debating feudal vs family-farm models, both guaranteed to support no one but poor peasants.




Not family farms like it was the 9th century. Not large landholdings worked by indentured workers like it was the 12th century.

Agribusiness, like of the 21st century.

Get it?


  1. I don't understand the Anti-Pinoy/Get Real crowd's strategy of linking this hacienda to Noynoy Aquino. Even if the supposed crimes of the Cojuancos where to be proven true, how does this link to Noynoy? These conspiracy theorists delude themselves into thinking that Noynoy is the evil mastermind ordering the execution of farmers.

    If they wish to judge Noynoy fairly then judge him by his own actions. Judge him by the fruits of his presidency and not by deeds of his corrupt and annoying (Kris) relatives.

  2. Anon, those sites have an agenda, and are committed to it because they have pushed themselves so far down the anti-Aquino path, that they cannot go back, or they'd lose credibility. So they will grab anything, twist it, amplify it, to win the argument. That is how they confirm that they are merely what they condemn, people who cannot be objective, who are reactive, and have to win to preserve self exteem.

  3. Agriculture is a good investment. This is how I view it:

    1. Population will grow
    2. Population will increase demand for resources (food, fiber, fuel)
    3. Efficient agriculture can fill that demand

    If one knows how to play it smart, they'll make lots of money off agriculture. I think Filipinos should really consider revitalizing the farmer cooperatives.

  4. brianitus, yes, done correctly, there is big money to be made in agriculture. Cooperatives are a good way to bring power to producers. I'm surprised there are not more of them. I think younger thinkers who like agribusiness ought to go to the US to study at the University of California Davis, or Colorado State University, or other good ag schools, then come back here and make a ton of money doing things the modern way. I'd do that rather than take up HRM or technology which are one-way tracks to nowhere for most students.

  5. Joe, there was a boom in cooperatives back in the 80s or 90s. However, the system sort of suffered from abuse.

    From what I know, there are some really good cooperatives out there. There are those that invest in mechanization of farms.

    It's actually funny that a lot of Pinoys consider this country to be "agricultural" when there's hardly anyone investing in making it a modern practice.

  6. brianitus, it seems to me the correct term would be a "farming" nation. Not agriculture, which suggests science and machines are used. And not agribusiness, which considers a focus on exports and profits.

  7. I'm in favor of actually redistributing lands to the Hacienda Luisita farmers instead of the SDO. Those poor folks work under the heat of the sun for the criminal sum of P7.50 A DAY. They really deserve a break.

  8. 7.50Php a day? When I visited Sugar cane field workers in Sagay, Negros for my photo project, they told me that they were making 80php a day. It is still only 2 dollars a day but not 7.50php
    Are there such differences? Am I missing something?

  9. The standard labor rate in Biliran is P170 per day.

    I agree, in looking at farm laborers as individuals, that they work much too hard for much too little. The problem is that giving them the land does not correct the circumstance of their condition, it only tides things over for a short while. My argument is for permanent, productive, profitable reconfiguration of Philippine farming. Looking at the Hacienda Aquino payout as any kind of solution is like looking at a bandaid as a cure.

  10. Joe,

    The rice problem has been with us for a very long time. I remember my grandfather telling me he used to go to vietnam in the 20s to import rice. I think our low output has more to do with arable hectarage, weather, and population growth rather than the size of farms. We have been able to increase rice production through science but unfortunately science has never caught up with our population growth. I think we should just eat less rice.

  11. @ Attila: Yes, it is true. The daily wage of the Hacienda Luisita workers is P7.50.

  12. MB, true, the consumption variable is key in terms of overbirthing, but if you eat less rice, you have to eat potatoes, and still have a problem with production. I'm not really an ag specialist, but I know California is one the the top rice producing states in the US, most from the Sacramento Delta. Some rice is planted via airplane. Between A, for US, and Z, for Philippines, there must be a better way than individual farmers planting small plots and drying the rice in the middle of the National Highway.

  13. "I don't understand the Anti-Pinoy/Get Real crowd's strategy of linking this hacienda to Noynoy Aquino. Even if the supposed crimes of the Cojuancos where to be proven true, how does this link to Noynoy?..."

    Well, you can't help it. See, Noynoy's main selling point was not any personal achievement because he had none but that he was the son of a democracy icon/saint and a hero. In short he became president by virtue of genealogy. Problem is as recent revelations tend to show now, his genealogy is not so pure, saintly or heroic after all


Please take up comments at the new blog site at

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.