Secretary Arthur Yap of the Department of Agriculture announced on Nov. 5 his commitment to expand organic production in the Philippines, starting with 400,000 hectares of rice lands.
Five years ago, I led a 30-day hunger strike of the Philippine Greens and other organizations against Secretary Yap’s predecessor, DA Secretary Cito Lorenzo, to ask him to halt the approval of the commercialization of Bt corn in the Philippines. Lorenzo ignored us.
Today, I salute Secretary Yap for making this bold commitment, despite the fact that such decision is bound to incur the ire of the chemical fertilizer industry and GMO proponents in the Philippines.
If there is one word that strikes fear in the hearts of the chemical-GMO industry, it is the word “organic”. The “O” word to the chemical/GMO industry is like daylight to the vampire, or holy water to the devil.
Organic production and organic processing have an unequivocal meaning based on a set of standards carefully defined and regularly reviewed by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). These standards reflect a balance between the interests of producers and of consumers. No corporate lobby, not even governments, can bend these standards any which way they like.
Organic standards are very clear and uncompromising about their prohibition against synthetic fertilizers and genetically-modified products, such as the Bt corn whose commercialization in the Philippines Lorenzo approved in 2003. There can be no ifs or buts about it: anyone who wants to be organic has stop using chemicals and GMO.
Organic products are not only good for our health, they also reduce farmers’ costs and therefore improve their income. They are likewise good for the health of the farmers and their families, because they don’t have to be exposed to toxic chemicals anymore. Organic production is good for the environment, not only because we are reducing the volume of poisons we introduce into the soil and our surroundings, but also because we are reducing our consumption of fossil fuels (yes, fertilizers come from oil) and therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change and sea level rise.
There is no real reason why organic products should be expensive.
A major reason they are expensive today is the limited supply. As we start to realize the 400,000-hectare target set by Secretary Yap for organic rice production, we can expect the price of organic rice to go down to nearly the same level as chemically-grown rice.
Another reason organic rice is expensive today is that that the government subsidizes rice farming with toxic chemicals, but not organic rice farming. This is about to change, as Secretary Yap’s organic rice program takes off.
The third reason organic products are expensive is that they unfairly shoulder the burden of product monitoring, testing and labelling. This creates an economic system with a built-in bias against organic production. If the government followed the fairer “polluter pays” principle, then the burden of product monitoring, testing and labelling should be borne by chemically-grown products, not organically-grown products. This will create an economic system which will make chemically-grown, poison-laden products more expensive and organic products cheaper. And this is what we all want.
I encourage Secretary Yap and the Department of Agriculture to learn more about organic production and processing standards. They will have to master the nuances of this industry, if they want to break into the vast international market for organic products. Too many bureaucrats and technicians within the DA still think that the use of “organic” fertilizers or, worse, “balanced” (50-50) fertilization will already make a farmer “organic”.
We will all have to do better than this, if we want to become “organic” in the same sense that the rest of the world understands it.