The process takes at most six months of preparing the fields, plowing, sowing, fertilization and finally, harvest, before a simple plate of rice can be served on your table. For big-time rice exporting businesses, the laborious production is aided by machinery (e.g. rototillers for cultivation and seed-planting tractors). But for farmers who are still relying on the long-established way of production using sickles and bare hands, every grain that is harvested can weigh as heavy as a mountain. One can’t completely appreciate what’s on his plate while disregarding those who provide it for you. Therefore, it's crucial for one to be enlightened about the injustices in agriculture and the people in it.
Setting aside commercial companies, small-scale farmers make up the backbone of agriculture. Most of them are from Asia- in which most of the underlying nations are still on its way to development. Living in a Third World country (i.e. the Philippines) corresponds to inadequacy of some necessities to support all citizens. This circumstance mainly affects a population of people who are distant from the progress in modernized metropolises, specifically, Filipino rice farmers. Because of this situation, the chance for a better life is unconsciously deprived from the farmers.
‘We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community’- César Chávez, a civil rights activist who was also a farmer, once said. It can be deduced from the words of Chávez that progress is just like rice- that is, accessible for everyone and a commonality in every culture, in all social classes. Meanwhile, justice is similar to paddy fields. It must be sustained through continuous flow of efforts (water). And it must also be leveled so that all citizens (crops) will receive equal treatment.
Going back to the rice on your plate, how do you want it to be served? Perhaps if you’re from New Orleans, the spicy and savory jambalaya will fire up your palate. If not, then the red, vibrant color of jollof rice in Ghana might satisfy your hunger and your eyes. If you’re looking for something elaborate, perhaps Italy’s risotto will indulge you with its buttery, thick and creamy relish. However, if you’re a farmer from the Philippines, you would want to eat rice served with justice.
Rice, indeed, is the primary staple food for most countries. It can be a complex dish in Europe, a simple cuisine in Asia and Africa, or an inventive snack in the United States. Rice can be an intricate and colorful variation of sushi in Japan; or a satisfyingly crunchy bar of Rice Krispies that replenishes everyone’s appetite. But have you ever wondered about those who are residing in a Third World where some necessities are lacking? Are they getting enough rice as much as you do? Palay (paddy) is the major crop in the Philippines (according to Philippine Statistics Authority). Last year, the Philippines was one of the top rice importers in the world, but one of the least rice exporters (based on a data report from USDA Foreign Agricultural Service). With these statistical figures, this question should be asked: why does the Philippines have to spend its capital on buying rice when it can yield it instead?
The main factor behind this tradition is the lack of government support. The Philippines has to feed more than 100 million citizens every day. Importing goods for this sole reason is understandable, but the mere fact that paddy is an abundant crop makes this solution incompetent.
The government isn’t able to administer the poor irrigation systems, underdeveloped post-harvest facilities, and the lack of advanced equipment to help the farmers with large-scale productions. Because of these adversities, the country cannot export paddy. Subsequent to this problem, Filipino farmers are not earning an adequate income. The average rice farmer has only a daily wage of approximately Php 300.00 or just 5.74 US dollars (according to PSA)
This dreadful situation of Filipino farmers is further magnified by a tragic event. In 2016, a protest turned into a bloody, violent dispersal. And who was involved? Thousands of Filipino rice farmers from Kidapawan City, Cotabato, Mindanao. Because of El Niño- a weather pattern which generates an unusual warming of water near the equator- extreme drought has occurred in some Western Pacific countries. This phenomenon also brought scarcity. Having no income to feed their families, the farmers intended to protest for assistance to alleviate their hunger.
Six thousand protesters barricaded a national highway on March 30, 2016 (CNN Philippines). Shortly thereafter, police officials were deployed to negotiate with the farmers. On April 1, 2016, the supposedly peaceful shout for help by the minority group has broken out into violence. Authorities in full battle gear, gunshots everywhere, scurrying protesters with no weapon but stones. Everything was a series of blur, it was a tragic scene in the Davao-Cotabato Highway. After the tension has subsided, around 150 individuals were injured from both sides, three farmers have died. They were rice farmers and they were asking for rice- this is one of the dispiriting ironies in the society’s travesty of equality and justice.
Two years have passed and the tragedy is still unhealed. One lesson that can be grasped from this brutal incident is the significance of agriculture to the lives of the citizens. Some of them are still depending on the traditional way of yielding crops. And as nations are tending to modernization, the minority groups are being left out. Instead of capitalizing on their needs and squandering their potential to participate in commerce, they must aided without ado; because progress is not a privilege.
As you enjoy your spicy rice and curry, or mushy slice of Belgian rice pie, keep in mind not to waste a grain of it. Because some people are wilted, overworked, and are taking bullets. They’re paying the risky price, just to have a bowl of rice.