Organic Farming in the Philippines

In the Philippines, the term “organic farming” is very loosely used. What is really the true meaning of the term?

It evolves on three issues. One is the non-usage of chemical inputs in terms of fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, etc. Second, it has to be non-GMO—meaning, no use of genetically modified organisms. The third one, which is the most important, is the issue of sustainability. This means that any farming system that is based on non-renewable resource like petroleum, cannot be sustainable. In other words, our farming system should not create pollution or poison. Everything should be recycled.

But some people say it’s so hard to prove that you are really doing 100% organic farming?

This is where the certification comes in. Like I can be 100% organic by practice but if my farm is in Davao, for example, and my neighbor happens to engage in the aerial spray of banana trees, I cannot be certified as organic because I’m contaminated.

Why has this certification issue become complicated?

Basically the problem lies in lobbying. There is a heavy lobbying for chemicals because there is big business in chemicals rather than going organic. Like if I teach you how to make your own fertilizer, I have no more business for you. In the same way if I teach you how to make botanical pesticide, I have no business for you. We are more pro-poor, pro-farmer. This is not just an issue of clean environment, it has also become a political issue. We teach the farmers how to breed hybrid inbred seeds so that they don’t need to buy anymore from the multinational seed companies. We have to understand that whoever controls the seeds controls everything. Those who control the seeds, they also control the pesticides, among many other things.

How organized is the organic farming industry?

It has a lot of fragments but there are also a surge of growing interest in organic farming. Like now, there is already an organization called Go-Organic Philippines. During the late ’90s, there were very few participants. Now there are many people going into this. Remember, we now have Executive Order 481, which aims to promote the organic farming industry in the country. I think they have a proposal of putting in excess of Php6oo million until 2010. So a lot of people really got interested.

Historically speaking, for the industry to grow, there has to be government help in the form of subsidy. If the government subsidizes the chemical industry they should also subsidize the organic industry. Secondly, the industry should be able to penetrate the mainstream supermarkets. Now, organic products are in supermarkets but it’s very loose. Most of them, they are not even certified.

Do we have any figures to show how many people are already engaged in organic farming?

We don’t have a benchmark figure yet, but let me put it this way. When we first proposed to the government, we were asking for 2% to 5% of total arable area to be devoted to organic farming. In terms of arable area, we are looking for about 5,000 to 7,000 hectares. There are many people who are going into this—like organic rice farming, but it’s only sold in the market as a regular rice.

One of my targets is to create a book or a booklet. It’s like a consumer guide on organic and natural foods. Like for example, coconuts are organic by neglect. Nobody uses fertilizers and sprays on the coconut tree, the same is true with saging na saba and talbos ng kamote. So there are really identifiable produce that are really grown naturally.

Is organic farming difficult to do?

It’s not that difficult than it was 10-15 years ago. Before I had poor yield. But now, after learning the technologies from the Japanese and the Koreans, and when I studied in the States, I found out it wasn’t that difficult. I said to myself, they were doing 10,000 acres of organic carrots in the US, why cannot we do it here? I am promoting three basic technologies. I developed a technique called 10-day composting without turning the pile. Second, I’ve learned a technique in the US — you only use two kilos of compost and it can fertilize one hectare of land.

Third, I’ve learned from the Japanese and the Koreans how to culture beneficial microorganisms. So I culture my own. We don’t have to buy microbes. We also learned how to do valuable extraction. Like if I need liquid nitrogen, instead of buying urea or ammonium sulfate, we just ferment wastes like fish scraps. We also extract malunggay. In the same way, if we want to make pesticides, we use the neem tree, kakawate and many other things. So these technologies are now available.

How would you describe the Philippine organic market?

There is always a market. In my experience, the defined market is composed of the health conscious people—these people have heard the sad stories of people who got poisoned by chemicals and pesticide. Then perhaps 30% of our market is composed of cancer patients. Because if you’re sick, you don’t want to ingest more poison. The third are the expats and the balikbayans — these are the people who are more aware of the benefits of consuming organic products. But I must agree that those who can afford to buy these still belong to the AB market.

How much are these products sold?

Internationally, organic produce are 20%-30% more expensive than the traditional produce. Here, it all depends. It can be 1,000% more or less. Let me give you an example. You can buy a conventional pechay in the market for P20/kilo. Some organic markets will see an organic pechay for P40/kilo, some would even sell for as much as P120/kilo. There are no standards or set rules. It’s a law of supply and demand. If it’s an unusual product, I can price that heavily. Lettuce, for example. The wholesale price of an organic lettuce is P8o-P1oo/kilo, which means that the retail price should be double. So it’s sold at a range of P120-P240/kilo.

How do you see the organic farming industry five to ten years from now?

I’ll still say the same thing that I said several years ago: whether you like it or not, the norm of the future is to go organic because we have no choice. If we do not take care of the environment, we are at the losing end. We kill the soil, we kill the environment and we eventually kill ourselves. There is no other way. If we want to survive as human species, we have to adapt a sustainable approach to food production and one of them is organic farming.

Five years, from now, it’s a matter of mainstreaming. In the US now, organic produce are in the mainstream market. You go to a supermarket you will find some organic products. When I left the States, there is no such thing—only specialty shops and stores. But right now, Walmart has announced that they will go organic. Here, it is through government subsidy and mainstreaming in the supermarkets that will spell the progress of the organic farming industry.

And now, because of the financial crisis, this is my belief. You see, we have organized ourselves— this is an adaptation of what they did in the US which is called the 4H club. It was developed in the US during the Great Depression. The main philosophy of this is really for people in the city to try to go to the countryside and produce their own food.

Who needs to drink softdrinks and all the non-essentials in time of deep crisis? We have to go back to the basics. So going back to the countryside is really a way to curb our financial crisis. And going organic is one of the ways not only to help protect our environment and maintain good health. It’s also a way to sustain food production and empower our farmers!

Other resources:

  • Download What is Organic Farming ebook
  • Organic Farming Basics

Above is an interview of Gil Carandang, organic farming advocate and the President of the Independent Organic Inspectors Association of the Philippines (IOIAP), an organization composed of six members who are accredited by ECOCERT, a German certifying organization, by Marid Agri-Business Digest. Mr. Carandang can be reached at Herbaria Farms, km 59, Brgy Burol, Calamba City, Laguna. You can also send him an email at [email protected] or call him at 0929-2698602.

sources: Ronald G. Mangubat, Marid Digest, buzzle.com, attra.org, ofrf.org

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