Corn Farming in Alfonso Lista: The implications of promoting the market-oriented production of modern plant breeds among Cordillera peasants

Produce Buying and Pricing

The dealers classify the corn they receive and pay according to its appearance and moisture content. Freshly harvested corn is classified as sariwa (fresh). Corn that has been sun-dried for a few days is classified as skin-dry. Corn that has been dried completely is classified as ready-to-mill. Each category is further sub-categorized into Class A, B, and C, depending on grain quality.

No instruments are used to accurately measure moisture content and grain quality. The dealer simply scoops up a handful of corn grain, classifies it by sight, and quotes the corresponding price. Cases of under-classification are thus common.

Many of Alfonso Lista’s peasants feel that beyond the matter of moisture content – which naturally affects weight – classification is quite unnecessary. No matter the variations in grain quality, all the corn is mixed together when milled.

There has not been much variation in the price matrix for the last five years. The probability of a higher price is very remote because of abundant supply especially with the liberalization of agricultural imports.

In fact, it often happens that the corn market gets temporarily flooded. Then grain dealers stop buying. At such times, the peasants of Alfonso Lista are forced to store their corn, affecting grain quality.

Implications of the government’s agricultural modernization program

The government plays a key role in promoting modern corn breeds among the peasants of Alfonso Lista. The Municipal Agricultural Office (MAO)- Alfonso Lista has also been conducting field trials and technology demonstrations using different corn seeds provided free by the agricultural input-producing firms like Monsanto (through its Philippine research partner, Ayala), Syngenta, Pioneer, Corn World, BioSeed, and Asian Hybrid. In addition, the MAO has been selling these firms’ corn seeds to first-time users at subsidized prices, equivalent to half of the prevailing market price. The availability of credit from Quedancor is used as incentive to corn growers using modern corn breeds.

The experiences of corn-producing peasants in Alfonso Lista underscore the seriousness of the implications posed by the Philippine government’s promotion of the market-oriented production of modern plant breeds through its agricultural modernization programs.

First, the modernization program does not alter the traditional feudal relations in agricultural production and trade, such as those that pertain to input supply, credit and the sale of the produce. Peasants become dependent on and heavily indebted to creditors who control the supply of inputs as well as the trading of produce.

Second, peasants are caught in a pattern of steadily increasing input utilization. At first, the use of inputs increases because of the compulsion to earn more to be able to pay a standing debt by increasing the area planted with corn. Since land is limited, peasants eventually practice monocropping. This leads to problems related to soil degradation and pest infestation, thereby progressively increasing the utilization of fertilizers and pesticides.

Worse, peasants, such as those from the Vegetable Belt- from La Trinidad, Benguet northward to Bauko, Mountain Province and eastward to Tinoc, Ifugao are no longer able to cope with unpaid loans especially after being affected by incidences of crop failure and dips in the prices of agricultural produce. Ironically, the effect is that they had to contract more loans to be able to purchase goods for their subsistence such as rice, dried fish, and processed foods. They again turn to agricultural input dealers for credit and the cycle of indebtedness continues. This reinforces the centuries-old problem of feudal bondage and worsening poverty for the peasantry. (Bulatlat.com)

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