Tag Archives: Department of Agriculture

System of Rice Intensification (SRI): failure still counts as success

Last November 27, I was invited by SRI-Pilipinas trainor Aga Milagroso as guest speaker at the graduation ceremonies of 36 farmers of Alaminos, Pangasinan, whom he had trained over a whole season on the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), organic fertilizer making, indigenous microorganism (IMO) activators through rice fermentation, and other useful knowhow for the farm. SRI-Pilipinas national training coordinator Venancio Garde Jr. also made occasional trips to help handle some sessions. SRI-Pilipinas is the consortium of Philippine NGOs, academics and government researchers promoting SRI and organic farming in the Philippines.

The training was conducted over 16 weekly one-day sessions, spanning a whole planting season. It was a hectic schedule for Aga, who had to make the 4-5 hour trip by bus every week from his hometown in Malolos, Bulacan to Alaminos, Pangasinan. Aga says the enthusiastic response from the graduates made it all worth the effort.

Normally, due to funding limitations, SRI-Pilipinas squeezes all the SRI knowhow in a one-day session that includes a half-day of lectures and a half-day of hands-on training. This particular training program, which was funded by the city government of Alaminos, was quite intensive, giving Aga a chance to go into all kinds of details and to cover a lot more ground.

The graduation program itself was held at the village of Linmansangan in Alaminos, Pangasinan, where the 16 sessions of the season-long training were also held.

Official presence was impressive. The regional office of the Department of Agriculture Ilocos Region sent a representative, Wilfredo Pal-laya. Alaminos Mayor Hernani Braganza also sent a representative, city administrator Col. Wilmer Panabang. City councilor and Committee on Agriculture chair Earl James Aquino and fellow councilor Radoc were also there, as was city agriculturist Ernesto S. de Leon. They all exhorted the farmers to apply what they learned to raise their incomes and to take advantage of the emerging organic market.

Here’s the list of SRI graduates:

Women (9): Carmelita D. Foronda, Delia D. Babera, Delia F. Garcia, Febe B. de Ocampo, Generose V. Castro, Imelda O. Rabanal, Jessica V. Baillo (Secretary), Lorena B. Pamittan, and Rosalinda R. Corpuz. Men (27): Agapito B. Tugade, Alfredo R. Purganan, Alselmo O. Corpuz, Armando H. Bautista, Armando L. Laguisma, Boy Cristy Rosales (Treasurer), Eduardo A. Rabago, Fernald S. de Guzman (Sgt-at-arms), Ismael M. Laguisma (Sgt.-at-arms), Jaime P. Abarra, Jerry D. Ico (Public relations officer), Joel R. Zabala (Business manager), Joseph C. Estrada, Julio C. Abora, Lorenzo B. Laguisma Sr., Lyndon B. Baillo (Business manager), Mariano B. Quiam, Orlando Bernas, Oscar B. Duco, Osmar A. Mejia (President), Paulino R. Rabaya, Ramil G. Camba, Rogelio L. Laguisma Sr. (Vice-president), Rogelio R. Reyes (Public relations officer), Rolly B. Laguisma, Romel C. Purganan (Auditor), and Veronico B. Verzola.

I was all attention, when one of the graduates Osmar Mejia reported the results of the group’s SRI trial. The results were not really impressive. In fact, it looked definitely disappointing to me:

SRI

Conventional

Paddy rice yield (palay)

1,696 kg

4,033 kg

Polished rice (bigas)

1,159 kg

2,086 kg

Gross revenue (P40/kg)

P46,360

P83,448

Total production cost (P)

P43,770

P36,832

Net income (P)

P2,590

P46,616

Mejia explained why, despite the seemingly disappointing results, they felt encouraged and positive about SRI. He said the SRI plot had been ravaged by the dreaded tungro disease as well as the rice bug. But in the training, they learned how to control these through botanical preparations. They were especially awed by the anti-tungro concoction they learned from SRI-Pilipinas national trainor Jun Garde — ordinary cooking oil, onions and garlic ground on a pestle and sprayed on the rice plants. That the plants would actually recover and even give them a small net income was truly impressive, Mejia said. They also saw with their own eyes the high-tillering rates that distinguish SRI-grown plants from the conventionally-grown ones, and they understood what this meant in terms of higher yield, had their triat plot not been attacked by tungro and the rice bug. Thus, when Ilocos DA representative Wilfredo Pal-laya asked the graduates, “Was your trial successful?”, they enthusiastically chorused, “Yes!”

Mejia further explained that the high SRI production cost was mainly due to labor cost, which he attributed to the steep learning curve. Hired hands were not used to the unusual SRI practices and demanded higher wages, and they were slower at their tasks too. The labor costs will go down, he said, as people became more familiar with the method. Already, some graduates were saying that they would in fact save on labor costs, once they had mastered the method.

When it was my turn to talk, I basically told the graduates the following:

Graduation rites are often called “commencement exercises” because, they not only mark the end of one phase but also the beginning of the next phase of the learning process. You are done with the training, it is now time for action, to put into practice what you have learned in the past 16 weeks. Then, SRI-Pilipinas can tap you, like we have tapped Aga, to train your fellow farmers and help them learn how to improve their income, at the same time, creating a healthier environment for themselves and their families.

Actually, SRI-Pilipinas taps for its trainors farmers who have had at least two seasons of experience with SRI. You must try what you learned, learn from your mistakes as well as your successes, and acquire confidence in the method. Then you can teach others.

It doesn’t really take much to learn SRI. SRI-Pilipinas got a grant of a little bit more than eight hundred thousand pesos from the Department of Agriculture, and we were able to train nearly a thousand farmers in 48 provinces with that money, mostly through one-day trainings attended by 25-30 participants. Since you had 16 one-day sessions, you probably know by now sixteen times more than Aga does, who learned his SRI after he attended a one-day seminar conducted by my wife Flora in November 2006 in San Miguel, Bulacan. Aga brought home the primer he got from that seminar, tried SRI, and was immediately successful with it. Of course you learn more in 16 days than in one. When Aga himself trained the members of his Crop Growers Association in Malolos, Bulacan, he also used the farmers’ field school method of season-long training.

But I want to emphasize that for a farmer who is determined to learn, a one-day session is enough. In fact, the primer should be enough. We have farmers who simply wrote us to send them our free primer, and they learned SRI this way, supplemented with occasional text messages when they had questions that needed quick answers.

The Department of Agriculture has committed to convert 10% of the country’s nearly four million hectares of rice lands to organic/SRI production. At an average of one farmer per hectare, that’s around four hundred thousand farmers to train. When you are ready, after having accumulated some practical experience in using SRI, we will be asking you to train other farmers, as Aga has trained you, perhaps in this region, in your province or in your town.

Cebu province is going organic!

I just learned some good news from SRI-Pilipinas trainor Salvio Makinano, who is based in Central Visayas. Governor Gwen Garcia of Cebu wants her province to go organic. She apparently made her decision after visiting an organic farm in Borbon, Cebu and seeing how organic farming can be economically viable for the farmer, healthy for the consumer and friendly to the environment. Salvio, who conducts regular trainings on the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), Korean Nature Farming, biodynamic farming and other sustainable farming systems through the Visayas, heard it straight from the governor herself.

If Gov. Garcia formalizes her intention and it is adopted by the provincial government of Cebu, her island province will be following the pioneering lead of Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental, whose governors (former Governor now Congressman George Arnaiz and Governor Joseph MaraƱon) signed a few years back a memorandum of agreement to turn the whole island of Negros into an organic island.

With three of the Philippines’ 89 provinces committing to go organic, and the Department of Agriculture publicly committing to convert 10% of the country’s ricelands to organic methods, we can see the balance of policy-making now starting to make a move towards the organic side.

Organic practitioners and advocates need to push even harder, and convince more municipal mayors and provincial governors to commit to the organic way.

A public commitment, backed up by strong legislative measures, is the first step. This should be followed by a clear budgetary commitments, that should go to an organic program ran by groups with proven track records in organic implementation.

With release by Secretary Arthur Yap of P20 million pesos for a pilot organic program in seven Luzon towns, the Department of Agriculture has taken the second step.

These recent developments inspires us to work even harder.

We look forward to the day when we can declare the entire Philippines an organic country, where organic methods are the default methods.

It may be unrealistic to expect the government to ban chemical fertilizers and pesticides. But a government that is truly serious about supporting organic agriculture should impose mandatory testing and labelling requirements on farmers and food producers who use non-organic inputs and sell non-organic products to the public. It is the logical legislative expression of the “polluter pays” principle. Such a measure will tilt the balance further in favor of organics, by reversing the bias of the economic system in favor of organics.

With the small steps being taken today by pioneering officials in local governments and national government agencies, the leap to become an organic nation is becoming a real possibility.

Philippine commitment to organic production strikes fear among chemical/GMO pushers

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.