Friday, March 29, 2013

A Dying Way of Life

By Anatoly P. Agapito

Photos by Jai Murcillo

The bus sped past the seemingly unending line of houses fronting the vast expanse rice fields that extended to the horizon. He couldn't see where these fields ended and where the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains began but the warm air from the fields gave him a nostalgic feeling. It is for this reason that he chose to ride in an ordinary bus going home just to feel this air - the warm air that reminded him so much of home - the home that exists only in memory for everything has changed. Slowly albeit so surely... nothing has stayed the same.

The houses the lined the highway were denser now. Here and there there were the unmistakeable marks of "progress." What once were green ricefields were now houses.. if not rice mills.. if not feeds factories. Everywhere... everything reminded him that "coming home" can never be coming home to what it once was before. "Sentiments of an old fool" he said to himself.

His eyes fell upon the carabaos that hauled the heavy rice harvested from the rice fields. They still used the Maharlika highway to haul their loads but they too have changed. What was once wooden carts made from "kawayan" were now intricate contraptions of wood, rubber, some parts metal, and the innovation of adding wheels. "At least that made it a lot easier for the lowly carabao" he murmured to himself.

"Still," he said to himself, "this is a dying way of life." It was undeniable. He sees it. The wheels of progress are moving too fast for the farmer and the beast of the fields to catch up. Along the same highway rice fields were being converted to subdivisions in anticipation of man's growing need for shelter. Somewhere along the superhighway where his bus exited was huge coloseum being erected for cockfighting complete with parking space and lights. He asked himself "As our populations grow... as we convert these vast lands to commercial and residential spaces do we not decrease the amount of palay that we can harvest for food? If then, what will feed the Filipinos of tomorrow? As we choose the concrete parking spaces of tommorrow.. without really having guarrantees if our means of livelihood can one day afford a car or even the food we're going to eat as food prices are set to rise as supplies ran out, are we not starving ourselves later? Have we not read the signs of progress wrongly? Has everyone so hastily jumped into the bandwagon of commerce without regard to what the future may hold?

His heart ached. The wheels of progress are opressing the way of life that he grew up with. The glitter and glamour of the shining lights... the false promise of comfort of city life... were all enticing farmers away from farming. And the lack of certainty of a life firmly planted on the soil had robbed them of their sons and daughters who fled the provinces to take their chances in the city. He can't blame them. Everyone deserves a chance to progress. Everyone except the farmer and the carabao who are forever cursed to serve the land they were born to and they were fated to die under. That way of life is dying. Everyone now thinks that if you are a farmer... then you are poor. You cannot afford the comforts of life. You wouldn't have enough money to send your children to school.. buy their books... even provide for their everyday allowance. Much less let them set their foot in college. This way of life is dying.. he said to himself and he wept bitterly.

And the more bitter part of it is it didn't have to be that way. If only industries would give due importance to the agriculture that feeds them. If only they would recognize that the Filipinos that drove the wheels of industry are being fed by rice fields that they so blindly destroy to profit. But no one would want to see it. The promise of large sums of return is too attractive to stay in agriculture. A farmer who once had 3 hectares of land would rather sell this land to the developer.. who would invest on average investments in gravel to cover it up and concrete to erect townhouses. It is not an easy task and looking for money to fund such a transition also has its commensurate amount of difficulty. But there are more of those who have that kind of money and are more willing to spend on this than those who would stay in farming. In a few years these units would be priced 1.3 Million a piece - a "better" valued investment.

One day when even with the amount of investment we've accumulated we can't afford to put food on the table would we realize that this is the "fork" in road - when we could have made a difference but we did not. When we could have avoided widespread starvation and we did not. It is the simple mathematics of supply and demand really. The more lands we convert to residential and commercial areas the less we have for agriculture. The less land for agriculture, the less rice we harvest. The less rice we harvest the less supply of rice in the market. The less supply the more demand. The more demand the higher the price. And for those who have barely enough to supply for three meals a day. What will happen if the price of rice would increase by 20 pesos more. 5 years ago we still could afford to buy rice for 21 pesos per kilo. Now it has risen to 34 pesos. And no one seems to care or notice. And as population increases the demand only grows. That is a factor of millions his mind could calculate. He wept. "What will happen to my children?" Suddenly he found himself not weeping for the past but weeping for the future? If we do not stop this now... what will happen then?

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