As this goes to press, the Department of Agrarian Reform.will have distributed almost 13,000 hectares of land in south central Mindanao. This by itself, constitutes the biggest ever distribution of agricultural land, many of them planted to rice and other staples, since the start of agrarian reform in the late 1990s. While ,may cheer this as an achievement, the challenge it poses to our agriculture and food supply bears more attention.
Sources from within the DAR and agrarian reform NGOs concede that these represent the remaining arable areas set for distribution, a condition due to the reality that many of these properties are owned by political families who have for long resisted land reform efforts.
But the bigger and deeper question is whether they will be made more productive? What many, especially the city folk do not understand about land and agrarian reforms is that it is not about social justice alone, but the need to assure everyone of better productivity per hectare. for more food and consequently, lower prices.
Whether that has happened since the start of agrarian reform during the Cory Aquino administration remains to be seen. A drop in agriculture as a percentage of GDP from 20% at the end of the Marcos regime to 9% at the start of the Duterte administration ought to make us think. A decline in Agriculture’s growth from 2010-2016 shows just how neglected this sector has become.
Thankfully, there are other reforms being pushed to address the financing gap, led by the land bank and the BSP, and through the Personal Property credit law that will now force banks to accept movable assets as collateral. The reality is that many agrarian reform beneficiaries do not have assets that banks accept as collateral. Not even their awarded lands are accepted, as they often require commercial or residential properties. Not even the agri agra law was able to spur countryside lending.
The truth is that productivity is influenced by the presence of capital with which to buy the planting materials and inputs needed to secure a good harvest. When more farmers are able to do that, we have more food. We hope that distributing more lands can achieve this, its intended purpose.