POSTSCRIPT By Federico D. Pascual Jr.
Philippine Star, Thursday, April 24, 2008
\LOOK AGAIN: It may seem late in the day, but reader Leo Tecson emailed us some facts and opinion that raise interesting questions on agrarian reform, family incomes, plus a host of other related issues.
He said that a major factor in the shortage of rice is land reform, which divided farmlands into small plots — resulting in low productivity, high production cost and high prices for consumers.
He said: “Our production of only 2.5 tons per hectare is the lowest in Asia. China produces 6.25 tons per hectare, which is almost three times ours. This is astonishing as China has a short growing season since they cannot grow rice during winter.
“It is illogical to cut up large landholdings into small farms that are very inefficient. We are promoting primitive farming. Why should we pursue land reform when we have an exploding population and small land area?”
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CORPORATE FARMS: Tecson batted for large and mechanized modern, possibly corporate, farms with big areas managed to produce 10 to 15 tons per hectare instead of the present 2.5 tons per hectare.
This idea of bigger farms has been discussed at length in the past. But it might be worth reviewing, considering the comparatively poor harvests in many of the small farm lots cut up from big estates under agrarian reform.
He cited corporate farms in Mindanao producing bananas and pineapples. He said these are probably among the most efficient banana and pineapple farms in the world, eclipsing even South American banana plantations.
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NEGLECTED: What do we do with land reform farm lots that the tenant-beneficiaries plant to token crops but largely neglect, because some owners had moved to the cities to look for urban jobs or angle for squatter relocation sites?
“We spent hundreds of billions uselessly which could have been better spent on education, infrastructure, etc.,” Tecson said. “We started wholesale land reform way back in 1987, and what do we have to show for it?”
“National Economic and Development Authority data have it that our farmers earn only an average of P44 a day,” he said.
Even the World Bank has urged the government to drop land reform and instead consolidate the small farms into larger farms to achieve high productivity, he added.
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ALTERNATIVE: Noting that the Philippines has one of the highest unemployment rates in Southeast Asia (despite nearly 10 percent of the population working abroad), Tecson proposed aggressive tourism development.
Instead of land reform which creates only a few jobs, he went on, why not spend the money on tourism where we have what economists call comparative advantage?
Surveys have shown that beach resorts are the destination of 70 percent of tourists heading for Southeast Asia. The Philippines has among the best beaches in the world, yet we have done little to capitalize on this advantage.
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ELSEWHERE: Seeing the potentials of tourism, Indonesia developed in 1976 the infrastructure of Bali. They put up an international airport as well as a road network so a tourist can reach his hotel only a few minutes from the airport.
Thailand, also realizing that tourism is big business, developed Phuket in the 1980’s. Malaysia then worked on Langkawi island to rival Phuket.
Phuket island alone draws more than five million tourists a year, almost double the number going to the entire Philippines. Thailand gets almost 15 million tourists a year, while we get only less than three million, half of them Balikbayans.
The irony is that many of our beach areas are more beautiful than the beaches in Phuket, Langkawi and Bali, Tecson said.
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INCOME BOOST: Had we spent on tourism the hundreds of billions spent on agrarian reform, he said, it is not inconceivable that we would have more than 20 million tourists by now given the beauty of our country.
We would have created at least 10 million new jobs in tourism and downstream industries, boosting local incomes and improving the quality of provincial life.
He noted that a regular worker in a big Makati hotel has an income 10 to 20 times what a small farmer makes. But farmers can benefit directly from tourism.
In Donsol, Sorsogon, the income of farmers and fishermen has grown five times because of the influx of tourists viewing the whale sharks. Farmers sell their produce directly to tourists and act as guides, while fishermen rent their boats.
On Panglao island, the children of farmers work in the resorts during the tourist season and study during the off season. This enables many children from poor families to finish college.
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INFRA NEEDS: Instead of pampering or yielding to land reform tenants, he said the government could spend the money on tourism infrastructure.
We can build an international airport in Caticlan so tourists can go straight to Boracay from abroad. Let us upgrade the road network as well as the sewage facilities to prevent water pollution and solve the garbage problem in Boracay.
Rush the international airport on Panglao island in Bohol, now a prime destination, with many resorts going up on the island.
An international airport in northern Palawan, plus all the necessary infrastructure, will do wonders for that nature paradise boasting of high-end resorts such as Amanpulo, El Nido and Club Noah.
Palawan is a lot bigger than either Phuket or Langkawi and, if developed, could attract a huge number of tourists and create millions of jobs.
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