by Marie Valla
Two weeks before globalization protests are expected to take place at
free-trade talks in Quebec City, Filipino-born Sister Rosanne Maillillin
shared her experience of alternative development strategies with a small
audience on the Loyola Campus.
Her talk was sponsored by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development
and Peace. Sister Rosanne, who was born in the Philippines, is secretary
of the social action arm of the Filipino Bishops Conference.
What we want is to develop a safety net for the population and protect
basic sectors against the free markets law, she explained.
The Philippines has a long history of globalization. We pray the
Spanish way, but live the American way, she joked. The Philippines
was first colonized by the Spaniards, then occupied by the Americans until
its independence in 1946.
More than 50 years later, multinationals have become the new foreign rulers,
Under the pressure of multinationals, small farmers have moved away from
the traditional culture of rice and corn to concentrate on high-value
crops such as asparagus, mangoes or pineapples. But the intensification
of monocultures has contributed to the degeneration of the soil.
To remedy this situation, farmers buy, on credit, fertilizers and pesticides
from business contractors who also provide them with seeds. But the vicious
circle of debts quickly tightens. The quantity of fertilizers needed increases
every year as the soil and the farmers alike get gradually poorer.
Meanwhile, the production of rice and corn for the domestic market decreases,
forcing the government in Manilla to import rice from India and Thailand
at much higher prices.
Confronted with the absurdity of the situation, the Church has been promoting
development programs based on sustainable agriculture at the village level.
The goals are both to alleviate poverty, a reality for 70 per cent of
the population, and to empower local producers, Sister Rosanne said. We
tell them that land is first for food and the family.
The idea is that organically produced food sells at a higher price on
the markets and that chemically-produced food is bad for health. At
first it was difficult, Sister Rosanne recalled. It took five
years for the villagers to realize that it worked. Some farmers
finally started to go back to using manure or compost as fertilizers.
Institutions have been set up to provide credit for buying the seeds.
These changes give Sister Rosanne reason to hope. She is confident the
new president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will remain in active dialogue with
the Church hierarchy and support further initiatives to give land back
to sustainable farming.