Interview: Virgilio de los Reyes
What is holding back land acquisition and distribution? How can this process be facilitated?
VIRGILIO DE LOS REYES: Previous administrations focused their efforts on government-owned land or voluntary land transfer, whereas we are now pursuing private agricultural lands subject to compulsory acquisition. In voluntary transfers, there is an agreement between the landowner and the beneficiary where the government does not make any payments. If land is state-owned, usually it does not have a title and no research is needed before distribution. However, in compulsory acquisition, the government compels the landholder to sell the land if it is agricultural of about 5 ha in size, with the government making the necessary payments.
Currently, the biggest issue for agrarian reform is ensuring the accuracy of land records and technical descriptions of lands. Although landowner resistance has decreased, the problem is now beneficiary identification, as beneficiaries may have changed over time.
Another aspect of agrarian reform is the expiry of the law. Although the law gives a deadline for land acquisition to stop in June 2014, it includes an escape clause where an open case can continue until 2016. The current strategy is to provide notices of coverage to all involved landowners, non-governmental organisations and farmers’ organisations through the DAR website, so that they can verify whether the land holdings they are working on are eligible for redistribution.
What efforts have been undertaken to support and professionalise beneficiaries of agrarian reform?
DE LOS REYES: We are looking at the farming that is being performed by agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) and raising their income by making their land more productive. If one looks at the Philippine Development Plan, agrarian reform is incorporated in two chapters: one on sustainable and competitive agriculture and fisheries and a second chapter on asset reform. In the past, the objective was simply to redistribute the land, but now the Department of Agriculture and the DAR work together in strategic areas, focusing on enterprise development and providing credit and crop insurance.
Regarding enterprise organising, we are not necessarily talking about consolidating land holding into one person and then making everyone a labourer. Studies show that productivity of small farms is at least equal to large farms. In fact, it is a better strategy for rural development to focus on smallholders and ensure that they consolidate the inputs and outputs of local agriculture, allowing individual farmers to step up production and get ownership of what is produced.
To what extent does agrarian reform improve land tenure and the empowerment of farmers?
DE LOS REYES: When we distribute land, we give a productive asset to someone who did not have one. The next step is to improve access to capital and enhance human capacity. This maximises the use of land, which in turn generates a direct impact in poverty alleviation. Studies tell us that many people have moved out of agriculture and sold their land because they lack human or financial capital. This is why DAR is making sure that in the case of priority crops like sugar, coconut and rice, enterprise development is done as land is distributed, so that it automatically shifts to an enterprise. This may not entirely prevent leasebacks or sales; however, the only way to mitigate this phenomenon is to ensure that those who receive the land maximise its benefit.
Another key concern is in the demographic makeup of ARBs. Historically, the principal issue with agricultural productivity has not been so much of a lack of land reform but that it was not undertaken fast enough. Therefore, we now have people of advanced age receiving land while there are still outstanding gaps in the law regarding succession and land fragmentation.
In addition to enterprise development, new infrastructure is also key, and funds are allocated to irrigation and strategic farm-to-market roads. We are also working with agricultural buyers to help link ARBs with the people who will purchase and consolidate their produce.
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