Tag Archives: Farming

Organic rice from the rice terraces of Ifugao

In a meeting I attended last December 3, I heard Gov. Teddy Baguilat himself, governor of the province of Ifugao, describe his plans for organic production in Ifugao, home of the world-famous Ifugao rice terraces. Ifugao’s commitment to organic farming means four of the Philippines’ 89 provinces are now committed to organic production: Cebu, Ifugao, Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental.

There may even be more than four. Ifugao is hosting on January 29-31, 2009 in Lagawe, Ifugao, the 4th Regional Organic Congress in the Cordilleras. The Cordillera mountain ranges in Northern Luzon of the Philippines is home to the country’s Igorots. These hardy indigenous peoples built with their bare hands and a few hand tools thousands of kilometers of rice terraces, considered by many to be the eighth wonder of the world.

The Cordillera region includes Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga and Mountain Province.

The Benguet vegetable industry is so heavily chemicalized that nearly 90% of all cancer cases in the Baguio General Hospital, a doctor there told me, came from the town of Buguias, where Benguet’s vegetable production is concentrated. The five other provinces, however, hold the promise of organic vegetables, rice and other products for their inhabitants and the surrounding regions.

In fact, Gov. Baguilat says, at least five towns of Ifugao have no market for agrochemicals, and are therefore already “organic by default”. These include the towns of Banaue, Mayaoyao, Hungduan, Upper Kiangan (Asipulo) and Hingyon. Ifugao is already exporting 10 tons of organic indigenous rice, the tinawon, to the U.S., he says. They can also supply organic coffee. The main problem, according to him, is linking producers to markets and third-party organic certification, and that’s what they are working on now.

If five of the six Cordillera provinces join the organic bandwagon, that could make it eight provinces out of 89 soon. We are moving forward!

Sustainability through permanent agriculture

How does one design a farm so that it is environmentally-friendly and economically viable as well?

To many Filipino farmers, this question has not even occurred. Most tenants and farm workers have little say in running the farms they work in, much less in redesigning them. Even farmer-owners often simply take the existing farm set-up as given, preoccupied as they are in the day-to-day problems of keeping their farms afloat.

Yet, a farm’s design is a key factor in its survival and sustainability. In poorly-designed farms, farmers will always feel as if every day were an uphill climb, because the poor design makes the farmer work against the natural flow of matter and energy in the farm. In well-designed farms, farming will feel like a downhill joyride, as the natural forces and components in the farm themselves do most of the work that the farmer normally shoulders.

A sustainable approach to farm design called permaculture, first developed in Australia, is now proving its worth under Philippine conditions. In permaculture (from permanent agriculture), the farmer carefully lays out a system of water containment and channels within the farm, so that water naturally flows slowly, by gravity, from one containment to the next. Then, the farmer gradually “assembles”, following certain principles and guidelines, an increasing variety of plants and animals. These are laid out in a way that each additional farm component performs one or more functions or provides matter or energy which, in a conventional farm, have to be provided by the farmers themselves. After many years, a well-designed permaculture farm will look like a lush forest of food and cash crops. And this forest will essentially maintain itself. Then, the farmers’ job will consist mainly of tending the “forest” and regularly harvesting its products.

Successful permaculture farms in the Philippines include the Center for Ecozoic Living and Learning (CELL) in Silang, Cavite and Cabiokid in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija. Permaculture practitioners and advocates have set up the Philippine Permaculture Association (PPA), which conducts regular trainings and supports those who want to try permaculture in their own farms.

Indigenous microorganisms (IMO)

A new concoction is becoming increasingly popular among farmers. Usually called indigenous microorganisms (IMO), this concoction has been successfully tried by government agriculturists, academic researchers and non-profit foundations alike. They have found it useful in removing bad odors from animal wastes, hastening composting, and contributing to crops’ general health.

To make your own IMO, follow these simple steps:

1. Cook a kilo of rice, preferably organic. After cooling, put the cooked rice in a wooden, earthen or ceramic container. Avoid plastic or aluminum.

2. Cover the mouth of the container completely with cloth or paper, fixed in place with a rubber band, to prevent water or small insects from getting in.

3. Put the covered container, protected from possible rain, under the trees, in a bamboo grove, a forest floor, or wherever a thick mat of leaves has formed. Leave it there for three days.

4. After whitish moldy filaments have formed, transfer the entire contents of the container to a larger glass or earthen jar and add one kilo of brown sugar or molasses, preferably organic.

5. Cover the jar with clean cloth or paper, fixed with a rubber band. Keep the jar in a dark, cool place. Let it ferment for seven days, until it appears muddy. This is your IMO concoction.

To use, mix two spoonfuls of the concoction with a liter of water. Spray the diluted solution around chicken coops and pig pens to remove unpleasant odors, on your compost pile to hasten decomposition, or on your crops to improve their general health by controlling pests and serving as foliar fertilizer.

By making their own IMO, farmers can free themselves from the need to buy inputs for their farms. By reducing their costs, using IMO keeps them away from debt and improves their income.

Truly, these tiny beneficial organisms are a farmer’s friend.