IISLA’s Independent Dialogue for the UN Food System Summit unveiled a plethora of issues faced by smallholder farmers and MSMEs in the Philippine food system, highlighting many constraints and challenges in achieving sustainable food security in the country and in ensuring equitable livelihood for those working on the ground.
One of the key challenges in production is the high risks or costs incurred in transitioning towards organic methods which are absorbed by the farmers with little or no support during the transition process. This is exacerbated by expensive and inaccessible organic inputs. Thus motivating farmers to adopt organic farming in lieu of conventional techniques is difficult without enabling mechanisms such as affordable and accessible funds to cover both household needs and farm inputs, as well as relevant education to optimise yield and lower input costs.
From the food processors perspective, sustained supply of diverse, organic produce for processing at stable prices is limited. Small organic food processors are subjected to highly volatile prices and unstable supply volume preventing them from building up sustainable inventory and scale up their operations.
These challenges overflow into consumption patterns for organic products. Limited supply often at high prices make it difficult for consumers to boycott cheaper conventionally grown produce. The entrenched culture of monocropping has also resulted in limited crop diversification with locally-grown endemic crops not known to consumers. The result is a vicious cycle where sustainably-grown, healthier and more diverse crops are not produced by farmers.
Inadequate communications channels and logistics infrastructure in food distribution leave farmers and consumers at the mercy of the ‘market-makers’, or traders/consolidators, who often dictate farmgate prices and what produce should be planted by farmers. This is aggravated by farmers’ lack of knowledge of their ’real’ cost of production, resulting in their inability to set prices of their produce that reflect real costs. This, coupled with other systemic challenges such as lack of land rights, render many smallholder farmers not credit-worthy by many formal financing institutions, leaving them with unscrupulous informal lenders. Extremely intricate and tedious loan application processes with formal lenders, along with limited financial literacy of many farmers, also hinder access to capital. Lending is often available for associations or cooperatives but not for individual farmers/MSMEs without collateral. If available, loans often demand high interest rates beyond the affordability of small food processors and smallholder farmers.
Listening to smallholder farmers and MSMEs working on the ground has given us first-hand information on the real issues and potential solutions to ensure food security. Our team at IISLA remains committed to co-creating and redesigning a food system that protects people and the planet whilst achieving prosperity for all.