The rise of corporate plantations in the Philippines

The country’s practice of large monocropping for export dates back to Spanish and US colonial times when the hacienda system was introduced to shift agricultural production from staple food crops to commercial crops such as sugar, hemp, tobacco, and coconut. The introduction of globalization policies in agriculture, starting from the implementation of the World Bank-funded Green Revolution in the 1960s promoting high yielding varieties (HYVs) to the current agricultural thrust of promoting “value chain development”, has intensified the colonial practice of large-scale, commercial plantations.[i]

During the 1970s, large-scale cultivation of export crops prevailed over about 20% of total agricultural land. American agricultural TNCs that were into direct agricultural production were DOLE, Stanfilco, Del Monte, and Fire Stone. During the 1980s, international competition required higher and stricter quality standards in commercial crops such as fruits, vegetables, seafood, and livestock. The period saw the push for the cultivation of high value crops (HVCs), which required high technology and capital intensive farming. This increased TNC control over the land even without owning through contract growing.[ii]

In the 1990s, the Medium-Term Agricultural Development Plan (MTADP) 1993-1998 aimed to enable the country to produce “high-class products” for export and at the same time making these competitive with imports in the domestic market. The MTADP adopted the Key Production Area (KPA) approach based from Taiwan and South Korea’s experience where a modernized agricultural sector laid the base for industrialization.[iii] The KPA approach specified what crops to plant in certain areas, reduced areas planted to rice and corn from 5 million hectares to 1.9 million hectares, and increased areas planted to “export winner” crops.[iv] The MTADP opened up public lands to private agribusiness through lease arrangements.

The government passed the High Value Crop Development Act in 1995 to urge farmers to shift from traditional crops to HVCs.[v] These include but are not limited to: coffee and cacao, fruit crops (citrus, cashew, guyabano, papaya, mango, pineapple, strawberry, jackfruit, rambutan, durian, mangosteen, guava, lanzones, and watermelon), root crops (potato and ubi), vegetable crops (asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, celery, carrots, cauliflower, radish, tomato, bell pepper, and patola), legumes, pole sitao (snap beans and garden pea), spices and condiments (black pepper, garlic, ginger, and onion), and cutflower and ornamental foliage plants (chrysanthemum, gladiolus, anthuriums, orchids, and statice).[vi] This entails massive conversion of rice and cornfields.

The Philippine government also passed the Biofuels Development Act of 2006, which aims to reduce dependence on imported fuels by promoting biofuels from sugarcane and palm oil, bioethanol from sugarcane, corn, cassava and nipa, and biodiesel from coconut, while studying the viability of Jatropha Curcas (tuba-tuba).[vii]  Based on technical studies, the most energy-efficient biofuel feed stocks are sugarcane and palm oil and the most suitable places where these “energy crops” may be grown are in poor countries where the tropical and sub-tropical climates are perfect for production.[viii] To be commercially viable, biofuels require large-scale investment and production thus favoring the concentration of the means of production, at which the most important is land.



The story above is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, 'The Point of Development: Shrinking Spaces for the Lumad vis-a-vis Corporate Plantations', to be published by the RMP-NMR-established Mindanao Interfaith Institute on Lumad Studies.

[i] IBON Databank and Research Center. Contract Growing, Intensifying TNC Control in Philippine Agriculture. Sta. Mesa: IBON Books, 2002. Print.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Cruz, Philip S. “Aquaculture Feed and Fertilizer Resource Atlas of the Philippines.” FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 366. Rome, FAO. 1997. Web. 30 July 2016. <>

[iv] Guzman, Rosario Bella. “Realities of Agrarian Reform Communities.” IBON Facts and Figures. Vol 19 No. 19. 15 Oct. 1996.  Print.

[v] Valbuena, Joyce P. “The Cost of High Value Crops.” IBON Facts and Figures. Vol. 19 No. 5. 15 March 1996. Print.

[vi] Republic of the Philippines. “Republic Act 7900: An Act to Promote the Production, Processing, Marketing and Distribution of High-Valued Crops Providing Funds Therefor, and other purposes.” Sec. 4b. Vantage. 23 Feb. 1995. Web. 30 July 2016. <>

[vii] Republic of the Philippines. “Republic Act 9367: An Act to Direct the Use of Biofuels establishing for this Purpose the Biofuel Program, Appropriating Funds Therefor and for other purposes.” 12 Jan. 2017. Web. 31July 2016. <>

[viii] “Biofuels Act of 2006, Behind the Hype.” IBON Facts and Figures Special Release. Vol. 30 No. 14. 31 July 2007. Print.