In the Philippines, more than 12 million people were estimated to have experienced involuntary hunger during the second quarter of 2023. According to some economic managers of the Marcos administration, the root of the problem is the lack of food supply. However, the government’s responses to the crisis raise the question of who stands to benefit from these policies. The president once promised that his administration will promote food sovereignty, but their actions and policies are contrary to its basic principles.
One of the responses of the government last month was to implement a price cap on rice. However, this resulted in middlemen pressuring farmers to sell their produce at extremely cheap prices to ensure middlemen’s profits. Another solution of the government is to sustain intensive trade liberalization to facilitate importation. But over the past decades, it was large importers who have mostly reaped the benefits of liberalization. Meanwhile, farmers and fishers have become more impoverished as they have been unable to compete with cheap imported goods due to lack of government support. The Marcos administration has also been pushing for stronger private sector influence over issues of public interest, such as food and agriculture, through the Private Sector Advisory Council. However, the priority of any big business, above anything else, is their profit.
The food crisis cannot be reduced to a mere issue of supply. At the root of this crisis is the decades-long implementation of policies on food, agriculture, and natural resource use that are biased towards corporate profits and global markets. This has resulted in the transformation of food primarily as an issue of profit rather than an issue of rights, the decimation of local agriculture, and the extreme impoverishment of small-scale food producers.
As such, the real solution to the food crisis, first of all, is the provision of government support to local agriculture and to small-scale food producers. It is high time to strengthen local production and prioritize the allocation of sufficient public funds to farmers and fishers, especially indigenous peoples and women who face multiple layers of discrimination. Women continue to face discrimination in their roles as farmers and fishers. In many cases, they are still excluded from lists of recipients of support services.
All these are happening in the context of prevalent rural poverty, where most people face mounting debts and are forced to sell their resources due to sharply decreasing incomes. In relation to this, the government must halt intensive liberalization while rebuilding local agriculture in order to protect the livelihood of small-scale food producers against unfair competition.
Solving the food crisis also necessitates protecting the rights of farmers, fishers, indigenous peoples, and women to land, water, seeds, support services, and other resources for production. If food producers themselves are systematically being deprived of their access to these resources, then the country’s capacity for food self-sufficiency will wither away, and we will continue to be import-dependent. The pandemic, war in Ukraine, and onslaught of typhoons due to climate change have taught us an important lesson: Being import-dependent is unsustainable, because the disruption of global trade only worsens hunger.
The state must also protect the rights of workers to living wages, job security, and humane working conditions. Labor is the most basic element that sustains the entire food system—from growing, harvesting, catching seafood, processing, marketing, cooking, and serving food. However, at present, workers themselves do not have sufficient incomes to buy the food they are producing.
In order to protect the rights of small-scale food producers, the government must ensure the just implementation of policies that safeguard these rights. These include the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), and the Fisheries Code. The government must also end contractualization, raise workers’ wages, and strengthen the regulation of businesses to prevent widespread violation of workers’ rights. It is also the state’s obligation to ratify international mechanisms that protect the rights of food producers, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP), UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the International Labor Organization Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Protecting the rights of small-scale food producers also means repealing policies and projects that centralize resources for production in the hands of a few businesses primarily for profit-generation. These include destructive investments such as reclamation, mining, and construction of mega dams, among others. The continuing implementation of projects like these reflects persistent corporate capture of policies, which are touted for supposedly bringing about prosperity, but in reality are only designed to increase corporate profits.
Meanwhile, development projects such as infrastructure, renewable energy, and tourism should not clash with the rights of ordinary citizens. Any project or investment focused solely on ensuring the profits of big businesses will inevitably lead to violent resource conflicts, which often end up with communities losing access to their land and resources, massive displacement, and destruction of livelihoods. As long as ordinary citizens do not have fair access to resources, the conditions that create poverty and conflicts will remain. And as long as there is no just and inclusive peace, hunger will persist.
Thus, it is clear that protecting human rights does not conflict with the pursuit of development and freedom from hunger. Instead, they are intertwined and inseparable. If the rights of small-scale food producers are not respected, the country can never realize food self-sufficiency. For this reason, the government must put an end to the systematic repression of farmers, fishers, workers, indigenous peoples, and women and youth food producers who stand up for their rights.
The Marcos administration once promised that it would work towards achieving food sovereignty. However, genuine food sovereignty and real solutions to the crisis can only be realized if the rights, culture, dignity, and self-determination of small-scale producers are respected and protected.#
Alyansa ng Kabataang Mindanao para sa Kapayapaan (AKMK)
Alyansa ng Maralitang Pilipino
Focus on the Global South
In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND)
Kilusan para sa Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (KATARUNGAN)
Lilak – Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights
Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Mangingisda sa Pilipinas (PANGISDA-Pilipinas)
Pambansang Katipunan ng Makabayang Magbubukid (PKMM)
Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK)
Partido Manggagawa (PM)
Partido Manggagawa (PM) – Kabataan
Rural Poor Institute for Land and Human Rights Services (Rights Network)
Timuay Justice and Governance (TJG)
For queries, please contact:
Bianca Martinez, 0998 247 3926, [email protected]
Raphael Baladad, 0929 335 6582, [email protected]