I had written earlier about the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a new method of growing rice that reduces costs, raises yields and minimizes the use of poisons in the farm. The method is being promoted in the Philippines by an NGO consortium which I coordinate, SRI-Pilipinas, as well as by other groups advocating sustainable agriculture.
Last November 7, I was invited by Aga Milagroso to his farm in Malolos, Bulacan, about 1 hour by bus north of Manila, to meet his 50 visitors from Alaminos, Pangasinan, which is in turn about 6 hours by bus north of Manila. Aga’s visitors from Alaminos were farmers, including 37 who were attending the weekly trainings on SRI and organic farming that Aga was conducting in Alaminos on the request of its mayor, Hernani Braganza.
It was heart-warming to hear Aga’s guests from Alaminos as well as some local farmers who had joined the visit, express their curiosity and their intention to try SRI. The seeds SRI-Pilipinas had been patiently planting throughout the country were now starting to bear fruit.
We have been promoting SRI in the Philippines since 2002. Before that I had been promoting it publicly since 2000, after my wife Flor, who comes from a farming family, successfully tried the method for two seasons in her upland village of Bgy. Casispalan in Tagkauayan, Quezon.
When SRI-Pilipinas received some eight hundred thousand pesos from the Department of Agriculture to promote SRI, we finally got some resources to do a nationwide training program. With this modest amount we have been able to do a one-day SRI training in around 48 provinces so far. We hope to reach 50 provinces before the fund is used up.
Aga’s example shows our approach in promoting SRI. In November 2006, I had been interviewed SRI in a DZMM radio program for farmers, which airs Saturdays and Sundays, 4:30-6:00 am. I always give out my cellphone number during these interviews, so that interested farmers can contact me if they want an SRI workshop.
One of the hosts, Ka Ben Laurente, asked me on the air if I could conduct a workshop in his town in San Miguel, Bulacan. We quickly agreed on the date (Nov. 22) and Ka Ben invited interested listeners to join the workshop.
It was my wife, Flora, who went. I avoid conducting farmers’ trainings myself as much as possible, because I don’t have enough farming experience. I rely for farming expertise on Flora, who spent her childhood and growing up years in her father’s homestead in Tagkauayan, Quezon. Around 50 people came, including some local officials and agriculture technicians.
As usual, many were skeptical. In my own experience, out of every ten in the audience, 8 or 9 would raise all kinds of problems why the method won’t work. They can’t control the water, they can’t control the snails, the can’t control the weeds, etc. But usually, one or two would be enthusiastic about trying it. They would pester you with detailed questions, buy the primer or the training CD and want to start the trial immediately. These are the farmers we are looking for, the innovators, who will go out of their way to try a new method and see if it works. We have gone at great lengths to put into our primer every detail that farmers may need to improve their chances of succeeding in their first trial.
Aga Milagroso was one of those who had attended Flora’s workshop, and one of those who were truly curious and interested. He brought home a copy of the primer, tried SRI on his farm, and got encouraging results. He tried again the next season, drawing into the trial other members of the crop growers’ association of which he was president. Aga wanted to learn more and contacted SRI-Pilipinas. So we sent another trainor, Jun Garde, to teach his group other organic methods, like the use of indigenous microorganisms (IMO), bokasi (fermented rice bran), carbonized rice hull, and so on.
Today, barely two years after he first heard about SRI in a radio program, Aga is himself an increasingly active SRI trainor.
Passed on from one farmer to another, heard on an early morning radio program, read on a photocopied primer, seen from a training video that has itself passed from hand to hand. This is how SRI is spreading itself among Filipino farmers, throughout the Philippines.
We already have at least one SRI farmer in most rice-producing provinces, at the modest cost of some eight hundred thousand pesos. Our next goal is an SRI farmer-trainor in every rice-producing town. I am hopeful the Department of Agriculture will also support this phase of our efforts.