BALANCING ACT FOR CAR’S AGRICULTURAL UNIVERSITY
Benguet State University, one of the country’s premiere agricultural higher education institutions, is caught between a rock and a hard place.
The coming into the picture of a South Korean firm wanting to lease 3.2 hectares for 30 years at the BSU-owned Strawberry Field has left local farmers crying foul as the plan would result in the displacement of farmers and possible loss of income and livelihood for them and their families.
If the proposal is approved, the existing memorandums of agreement of the farmers in the proposed site will not be renewed after their contracts end on July 31.
Most of the 600 farmer-lessees at the 40-hectare BSU-owned lot have been tilling the Strawberry Fields for a long time, some even tracing it for 40 years.The number does not include their family members who are helping out, laborers they employ, and entrepreneurs they are partners with, among other stakeholders.
Farming at the Strawberry Field is also family business, as the farmers would bring their husband or wife or children to tend the fields.
It is no secret the farm has sent countless children to school and has provided for their needs despite the challenges faced by the farmers, especially during typhoons when the whole valley farm is flooded.
Now, the proposed area of 3.2 hectares is seen to displace 56 farmers.
With the coming in of the Korean proponent, the question is whether the proposal would ensure technology transfer to the farmers who would be employed and will take part of the project, or will only bring profit to the proponent at the expense of those who will be displaced by the project.
As uncertainty abounds, the Korean proponent must be clear on the details of the project: how will the technology be transferred to the local farmers and how will it be managed and sustained? And why 30 years?
Another thing to consider is the fact that BSU denied the proposal last year, thinking of its social obligation to its farmer-partners.But due to the intervention of the Department of Agriculture, which “strongly suggested” the project, the proponent has resurfaced this year.
It seems the Korean proponent is more adamant to implement the project, though it is still a proposal, but the farmers who attended the consultation felt it was more of an information dissemination about the project than the latter.
While the proponent, Agro Solution Co., Ltd. Korea is backed by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), which is under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Korea, it is also made up of a consortium of Korean businesses.
The legitimate apprehensions of the farmers should be greatly considered by BSU and the proponent.
We are barely getting out of the pandemic and the movement of goods and people are slowly easing up. This is the only time they would recover from their loss of income in the past two years.
It was a hard time for farmers as news of brazen displays of smuggled strawberries and temperate vegetables that compete with our local produce, plagued them during the pandemic.
The farmers are also apprehensive the produce from the Korean lessee would compete with their local products, especially daunting as it would employ high technology.
The farmers, who have been dependent on renting the piece of BSU land for their resources, needed assurance they and their families will indeed be taken care of, if the Korean technology and the project is approved.
All these considered, it would now be up to BSU to decide whether the propo-sal is beneficial to the university and the farming community.
If not, perhaps there would be better proposals that would be offered to BSU in the future that would be a win-win for the local farmers and the premier agriculture-based university in this highland region.