Tag Archives: rice

Malolos sets a national example

I just learned from SRI-Pilipinas trainor Aga Milagroso of Malolos, Bulacan that Malolos mayor Danilo Domingo has adopted a city policy which, in my opinion, sets an example that every mayor in the country should follow.

Mayor Domingo has declared that Malolos residents are authorized to plant food crops on any idle piece of land in Malolos, public or private.

Aga Milagroso, who conducts trainings on the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and organic planting methods in and out of his province of Bulacan, uses a piece of land that is not his own. His compadre, Ernesto de la Pena, an SRI-trainor like Aga, also works several hectares of land using SRI. The land is actually owned by Victory Liner, a Luzon-wide transportation company, which allowed Ernesto to work their land long before Mayor Domingo announced the measure.

Throughout the Philippines, thousands of hectares of land are idled and taken out of production by land speculators who buy agricultural land by the hectare, hoping to sell them several years later, when rapid urbanization eventually enables them to subdivide and sell these lands by the square meter. Often, these land speculators are also government officials, or cronies of government officials, who have advanced inside information where new highways, national roads or other government development projects would be built.

Mayor Domingo’s enlightened measure can help solve the apparent lack of land available to landless rural poor, and the declining rice output of Philippine farms. In 2008, the Philippines became, for the first time in its history, the world’s number one rice importer.

If we had more government officials like Mayor Domingo, this would never have happened.

Promoting SRI among rice farmers

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.

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.

System of Rice Intensification (SRI)

A new method of growing rice is now spreading in many rice-producing countries. It is called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). The method was initially developed in Madagascar by a Jesuit agriculturist, Fr. Henri de Laulanie and continues to be refined by thousands of researchers and farmers all over the world.

In the Philippines, the promotion of SRI is being undertaken by SRI-Pilipinas, a consorium of NGOs which I coordinate. We have already conducted one-day trainings in at least 47 provinces in the Philippines. Now, we want to do trainings in every rice-producing municipality in the country. We need at least P25,000 (around $500) per municipality, and hope to gather donations from Filipinos abroad who may want to sponsor a training in their municipality. If you are interested in donating, please contact me privately (rverzola@gn.apc.org).

SRI involves a few simple but major changes in farmers’ methods. Not expensive, but challenging because it involves a major change in mindset.

  • Farmers are used to transplanting 3-week old rice seedlings or older. Under SRI, 8- to 12-day old seedlings are transplanted.
  • Farmers are used to flooding their fields. Under SRI, anything longer than a 3-day flooding is avoided. Wetting the soil, or intermittent flooding and drying, is instead encouraged.
  • Farmers are used to planting distances of 15 cm or closer. Under SRI, planting distances start at 25 cm and may even be greater.
  • Farmers are used to planting a bunch of seedlings per hill. Under SRI, one seedling per hill is encouraged. At most two is allowed.
  • Farmers are used to chemical fertilizers. Under SRI, the use of organic matter is encouraged.
  • Farmers are used to herbicides. Under SRI, a mechanical weeder is used instead, not only to control weeds but also to aerate the soil.

These simple changes in practices result in a very different kind (“phenotype” is the technical term) of rice plant. The plants produce much more tillers — 20 upwards, instead of the usual 5-10 tillers per plant. The tillers produce the grain, and the more tillers, the more grain, the greater the harvest. The loss of yield from wider spacing is more than offset by the bigger gain in yield from the greater number of tillers and the greater number of grains per tiller.

For details, please download this file: System of Rice Intensification: Practices and Results in the Philippines.

The benefits are many. The increase in yield, coupled with reduced cost, means greater income for the farmer. The health benefits should not be underestimated. Agricultural chemicals poison the soil, the food that comes from it, the drinking water and the surrounding fields. The environmental benefits are also considerable. Poisons are minimized and can be avoided altogether, giving common farm organisms (like mudfish, snails, crabs, frogs, etc.) a chance to return to the farm. Less flooding means less anaerobic decomposition of organic matter, which means less methane generation and therefore less greenhouse gases. Methane is actually worse than carbon dioxide in its greenhouse effect.

A mindset change among our farmers is bound to generate many positive consequences down the road. To accomplish this, we need a lot of support.