Tag Archives: organic

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!

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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.

DA Secretary Yap commits to convert 400,000 hectares of ricelands to organic production

In a public press conference on November 5, Department of Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap committed to convert 400,000 hectares of ricelands in the Philippines — 10% of the total — to organic production. He also signed a memorandum of agreement with the Go Organic Movement to pilot the program in six cities/towns for P20 million.

This was a historic moment. No DA secretary in the past has ever dared to defy the chemical industry lobby. Secretary Yap deserves the public’s full support for this organic conversion program. Once realized, this will make the Philippines the leading producer of organic rice in Asia, and perhaps the world.

One of the Secretary’s commitment was to promote the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) among farmers. With this decision, the Philippines joins many other rice-producing countries who have already gone into SRI in a big way, including India, Indonesia, China, Cambodia, Nepal and so on.

I have explained in an earlier post how SRI can bring a whole range of benefits to farmers, their families, to consumers and to the environment.

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.