Roundtable Discussion on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program

What happens to CARP?

A law extending the funding for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is now overdue.  In the view of some people some sort of extension is almost sure to be passed since no one would want to take the blame for the death of this cornerstone of the social justice program of government.  Others take a more skeptical view, believing that Congress will remain distracted by other issues and that these will be used a pretext to prevent passage of anything but the most diluted extension.  There is a continuing debate about what changes are needed along with the extension of the CARP.

On August 11, 2008, Action for Economic Reforms (AER), other NGOs and agrarian reform (AR) advocates had an interesting roundtable discussion (RTD) to tackle the multifaceted issues surrounding the program. AER, in particular, wanted to stimulate debate on the CARP.

Arthur Neame, currently with the Social Pastoral Institute, jumpstarted the discussion by presenting is paper Agrarian Reform and Rural Development – Mapping the Terrain.”  Some of the themes/issues which Neame talked about are summarized in the Annex . (You can also download the complete paper here .)

Objectives of Agrarian Reform

Participants in the RTD agreed that many of the problems identified in Neame’s paper have been known for a long time, including the limited support services provided to agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs).

Agrarian reform is not just a social justice program, that is, it is not just about “giving land to the landless” but also about improving the productivity of those lands and the efficiency of agricultural production, thereby contributing to economic growth and the welfare of those involved in agriculture. To do this, support services like credit facilities, training programs for farmers, etc. are needed. In the end, it is not just about quantity of land distributed – the CARP has distributed more land than any other similar program in the world – but the quality of the overall program remains questionable in the sense that it is believed much more could have been achieved socially and economically given the large expenditures the program has incurred.

Putting up agrarian reform communities (ARCs) was seen as a good idea. It allowed resources from government, international donors and civil society to be channeled to rural communities, and where these were organized it allowed them to become major participants in program implementation. So far, the amount of about Php 50 billion has been provided for the ARCs.  Nevertheless it is now seen that the undertakings within ARCs need to be more effectively incorporated into LGU activities

Of particular concern were questions relating to land losses by beneficiaries of the program – these may occur due to pawning of CLOAS or direct sale of CLOAS.  Such transactions may occur as a result of short-term cash requirements for inputs or for household emergencies.  The latter constitute “distress sales”.  There are estimates that as much as 30% of CARP beneficiaries may engage in such transactions, entailing potential or actual loss of their lands.  Data from Cambodia indicates that as much as one third of all land losses among the poor may be due to the need to cover health-related expenses and similar emergencies – and yet in the Philippines there is no research, as yet, on the proportion of land transactions that are distress sales, especially among ARBs.  This data is vital, as are suitable policy and program responses, given the large expenses incurred in the acquisition and distribution of land under CARP.

Inter-generational poverty remains a substantial challenge, notwithstanding any poverty-reduction achievements made under CARP.  This demands the effective delivery of affordable and quality health and education services in rural areas since these are known to be major determinants of inter-generational poverty or the escape from it.  Under-investment in these two services both as a proportion of GNP and in absolute terms is near-criminal in its scale and condemns future generations to lives of poverty.

Income

Participants continue to view small-scale farming as essentially viable. They pointed to studies saying that farmers who had been given their own lands (even small farms) earn more compared during the time before they became ARBs.

However, it is argued that notwithstanding the income gains accrued by ARBs, the total incomes of ARBs are not necessarily derived from farming and the income from farming is still small relative to the income that can be obtained by working in other sectors of the economy. The incomes from farming are not necessarily enough to provide for the other needs of the family such as education.  Pricing of agricultural products is a major influence.

Pricing policy on agriculture products

The government’s policy has been to depress the prices of crops, like rice, for the benefit of consumers. The government agricultural trade policy, i.e. rapid liberalization and decrease of tariff rates, is a major factor in this pricing problem. Cheaper products flood the market, causing prices to stumble.

Low returns leave agriculture with marginal viability. This is particularly true of those for whom capital is only available at relatively high cost.  It may also account for the ageing of the farming population, since marginal returns mean that agriculture is a relatively less attractive option for those that have the opportunity to see other forms of work. A participant, himself a farmer, added that even though the price of his produce remained low, the cost of inputs had gone up. He said that he only made a profit because he was able to increase his yield but not all farmers were that successful.

Lack of political influence

A good question that must be asked is why farmers are not that visible in pushing for higher prices of their products and in ensuring there is adequate protection against cheap imports. It was noted that vegetable farmers and livestock growers successfully pressured the government to keep tariffs (of their product lines) at their 1998 levels.  Objectively, as shown by census information, rice and corn farmers generally have lower educational attainments and lower levels of training. As a groups they tend to less politically articulate, more immobile and consequently face difficulties developing a self-sustaining organizational capacity.  Further, farmer organizations or peasant organizations are deeply fractious and compete for constituents. It is likewise important for the rice and corn farmers to build the alliance with the middle forces (e.g. white collar workers) and possibly with modernising sections of the elite.  There can be convergence in the interest of some sections of the elite and middle forces and the farmers in improving the welfare of the latter and in promoting the CARP.

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