Conversion from Rice Fields

Conversion and transition, similar in meaning and yet embodying completely different approaches to change.

I’m in Bulacan, gazing at the landscape as we drive from the mega city to the peri-urban fringe. Every two weeks I come here to Pancho’s childhood home, where he grew up surrounded by rice fields. Now, his home is surrounded by warehouses. Land conversion. But why? Isn’t rice production priority? It should be in a country where the staple is rice but unfortunately the Philippines is still a net importer of rice. And despite laws that prohibit the conversion of irrigated or irrigable fields, conversions for warehouses and real estate are commonplace.

How it happens: the application for conversion is filed, there is a ‘public’ consultation, where the public is represented by municipal councilors. the deal is approved.

Sometimes the application says conversion from rice to mangoes but when they start planting concrete no one lifts a finger or takes anyone to court.

The real kicker is that the conversion doesn’t simply delete a field- it actually re-organizes the whole town and its environment. Rice fields are IN FACT important waterways and water recharge areas. The new warehouses create waterways inside their compounds but fail to create a whole system approach that acknowledges how water moves outside their gates.

Pancho’s parents, now nearing 80 years old, regularly suffer through waist-high water when it rains since the warehouses have taken over the town. The floor has been raised three feet, so now when you wash dishes at the sink you have the choice to kneel or stoop.

Precious water becomes a burden, something to suffer through and manage in case of flood.

As the country suffers through drought due to El Nino, and activists clamor for bigas hindi bala (rice not bullets) it comes clear that the conversion of rice lands, drought and flooding all have root in a political process that robs us of the decisions that matter most.

How might community-based transition re-work and refute this fast and reckless conversion?