Seven out of 10 peasants in the Philippines do not own the land they farm. It is not uncommon for more than 75% of what they harvest to go to the landowner, a system which leaves peasants indebted, with barely enough to subsist on.
Without clear land title, it is exceedingly difficult for farmers to attain food security, or invest in the long-term work of building healthy soils that draw down the carbon in the atmosphere.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the Peasant Movement of the Philippines, is a democratic mass organization of Filipino peasants that fights for social justice and genuine agrarian reform, as distinct from the half measures which politicians have so far advanced. For the past 35 years, KMP’s more than 2 million members nationwide have participated in campaigns against the displacement, land-grabbing and human rights violations wrought by local and foreign landlords, agro-corporations and plantations, sadly endorsed by governments. Filipino farmers fight to preserve their protagonistic role in building a climate-resilient food system, and to defend peasants’ right to make the land productive for their family and for the country. They advocate for the redistribution of land so landless peasants can attain food sovereignty and food security.
“The peasants cultivate the land, but also cultivate the mind of the young to pursue what their parents and grandparents made before them,” says project coordinator Kathryn Manga. Through educational training and workshops, KMP implements programs to encourage the youth to stay in agriculture. Another initiative is the Bungkalan, or collective land cultivation in fallow areas of the countryside. Through the Bungkalan, KMP seeks to revive the spirit of peasant cooperation and solidarity, which has diminished since the Green Revolution. Together, peasants decide which crops to cultivate, using agroecological farming practices. United, they are empowered to earn better wages and gain access to markets, as they continue to learn and adapt through peer-to-peer exchange and dialogue.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, KMP set up an online farmers’ market to deliver healthy and affordable produce from farmers’ collectives in the northern provinces to urban centers. The platform has sold more than 13000 kg of produce, including leafy greens like camote tops, snow cabbage, and mustard leaves and root crops and fruit like banana, papaya, and avocado. “This is our way of ensuring that both farmers and consumers are staying healthy amid a global pandemic,” movement leader Antonio Flores told the Manila Bulletin. The group’s efforts provided an alternative to disrupted food supply chains, while helping raise funds for displaced and landless farmworkers across the country.
The Agroecology Fund supports KMP’s efforts to implement diversified agroecological collective gardens for displaced farmers, to ensure access to healthy food at all times. AEF also supports KMP’s initiative to train peasants in food preservation and processing techniques to reduce food waste and ensure food security and stable incomes for families, even during emergencies. The peasant movement is planning a land and food summit to share their experiences and learnings after the COVID-19 lockdown is lifted.
Although their call for land redistribution is essential for a just food future for the Philippines, peasants are often met with state violence. Since the election of president Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, the harassment and killing of farmer peasant activists in connection to land disputes has escalated; 262 farmers have lost their lives. Unfortunately, the situation shows no signs of easing. In July 2020, a new anti-terrorism law took effect, which many feel is a thinly veiled instrument to target critics of the government simply by branding them as terrorists. KMP fears that it could further suppress peasants’ criticism of the government’s policies, and set back a critical human rights and environmental struggle.
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