Win Tayong Lahat

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Lifting restriction on foreign land ownership to cost food security

Valenzuela City Congressman Win Gatchalian, a stalwart of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), expressed concern that allowing foreign entities to own land in the Philippines will pull the country further away from achieving food security.


Gatchalian explained majority of foreigner investors do not focus on growing crops.


“Eleven of the 17 land deals in the Philippines involving foreign investors are concentrated on harvesting crops for biofuel, not food,” Gatchalian said.


Gatchalian, a member of the House Committee on Trade and Industry, had earlier said he is in favor of amending the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution to make the country more competitive in terms of economic performance.


But he is against allowing foreigners to own 100 percent of land even as warned that altering the 60-40 provision that allows only 40 percent foreign ownership of land will open the floodgates for farmers being enticed to sell their farmlands at a very high price.

Such scenario, Gatchalian reiterated, will cost the country’s food security program.


“Instead, the government must look at small local farmers as partners to reaching that goal. It should safeguard our farmers’ rights to till their land and not allow big-time foreign corporate individuals and firms to claim our land,” he said.


Last week, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that nine of every 10 of the world’s 570 million farms are managed by families, and these smallholder farms produce 80 percent of the world’s food.


They are thus “potentially crucial agent of change in achieving sustainable food security and in eradicating hunger in the future.”


The contribution of family farms “are vital to the solution of the hunger problem” which affect over 800 million people, FAO quoted its director-general José Graziano da Silva in their “State of Food and Agriculture 2014” report.


Gatchalian pointed out that there are means of increasing foreign direct investments (FDIs) other than opening land ownership to foreign entities, which is the main argument that advocates use to push for charter change.


Gatchalian cited Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam as Southeast Asian neighbors, which have higher FDIs levels than the Philippines despite having similar limits on land ownership.


Data from FAO show that small- and medium-sized farms produce most of the food in most low- and lower-middle-income countries. Small farms also tend to have higher yields.


Despite their role in food security and higher productivity, many farmers remain poor, and much of the world’s food production includes unpaid labor by family members, according to the UN agency.


The Philippine Statistics Authority reported that farmers belong to the three sectors that posted the highest poverty incidence in the general population in 2012.


FAO recommended that policies should increase small farmers’ access to markets, credit, and inputs like seeds and fertilizers. (Monica Cantilero)