Farmers, Government Institutions Unite to Promote Organic Farming in Cordillera
The Cordillera Mountains may become the country’s major source of high-quality and organic temperate fruits, table greens, and other agricultural crops for both local and global markets.
The Benguet State University (BSU) is making this possible by appealing to local agricultural stakeholders to review their production strategies and support the conversion of highland agriculture to organic farming.
After spearheading the first Cordillera Organic Agriculture Congress last January 13-14, 2006, BSU is now pursuing its goal to become the premier organic university in Southeast Asia. It has started offering a Bachelor of Science course in organic agriculture this year.
It also implements programs and projects on organic farming and sustainable agriculture to promote safe food production, increase income of farmers, and prevent environmental degradation in the Cordillera region, according to Dr. Rogelio Colting, BSU president.
The gathering was not meant to be just another congress on organic agriculture. The participants and the speakers did not just hear each from other. Foremost, they wanted the Cordillera to shift from chemical-based agricultural production to organic farming to produce safe and competitive agricultural products for both local and international markets. Because of the support and acceptance for the promotion of organic farming, BSU intends to annually conduct a congress as a venue for organic farming enthusiasts and experts to share their experiences and expertise.
The enhanced promotion of organic farming in the Cordillera directly affects the region’s vegetable industry. The region’s farmers particularly those from Benguet, Mountain Province and Ifugao supply 70 percent of the country’s total requirement for temperate vegetables. Local farmers who depend on the use of chemical inputs continue to be short-changed in terms of product quality and income.
Yearly, around 541,950.33 metric tons of temperate vegetables in the local market came from Benguet Province, while 106,340.17 and 18,078 metric tons of temperate table greens came from the Mt. Province and Ifugao, respectively.
After the conduct of the congress, local policy-making bodies passed appropriate resolutions recommending and giving support to the promotion of organic agriculture throughout the Cordillera. The resolutions also supported BSU’s goal to become the premier organic agricaltural university in Southeast Asia. Among the first agencies that accepted and endorsed BSU’s thrust to promote organic agriculture include the Cordillera Regional Development Council (CRDC), the Benguet Provincial Board and the Municipal Council of La Trinidad, Benguet.
Other government and private institutions who pledged their support are the following: Baguio Filipino-Chinese General Hospital, Mt. Province Broadcasting Corporation-DZWT Radio Station, Cooperative Development Authority-CAR, National Agriculture and Fisheries Council (NAFC), Benguet Provincial Government, Department of Agriculture Regional_Field Unit (DARFU-CAR), Department of Trade and
Industry (DTI-CAR), Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc., Benguet Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc., Benguet Farmers Federation, Inc., the Brookespoint Multi-purpose Cooperative, and the Cooperative Bank of Benguet.
The decision of these institutions to unite and promote organic agriculture in the Cordillera also helps DA to promote safe and good production, postharvest, and marketing practices. However, the farmers are still the key to the attainment of these noble goals. DA-RFU-CAR Regional Executive Director Cesar Rodriguez said that unless farmers practice organic farming, such effort will not benefit everybody.
To some vegetable farmers, they began to shift to organic farming because of the promotion of integrated pest management (IPM). Under the DA’s IPM program, farmers’ field schools (FFS) were established in every vegetable producing municipality in Benguet and Mt. Province. Called “school without walls,” the FFS recruit farmers and hold classes in the farmers’ fields for the whole cropping season. FFS classes emphasize the production of safe agricultural products, care of the environment, and the health of farmers and their families.
While DA and the local government units continuously promote IPM in vegetable areas in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), some farmers were discouraged because ofthe absence of a classification standard which gives premium to their produce. However, the more progressive and enterprising farmers have already successfully shifted to organic farming, organized themselves, and instituted their own production and marketing standards.
In Benguet, farmers have established last September 24, 2005 an association called the La Trinidad Organic Producers (LaTOP) to help each other in terms of technology, marketing and standardization. With 42 members, LaTOP is pursuing its standardization project for its members to have a common understanding of organic farming and standardized practice and techniques, according to Jefferson Laruan, LaTop general manager. He oversees the marketing of members’ produce and the implementation of their certification process for members and farmers who want to become members. LaTOP certification follows a rigid process of annual inspection, soil tests, technology practices and other parameters.
Meanwhile, the Brookespoint Multipurpose Cooperative and the La Trinidad Strawberry Multi-purpose Cooperative are also promising major producers of organic herbs, strawberries and vegetables. These two big farmers associations loaned P25 million each from the DA’s Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) for the production of vegetables, herbs and strawberries in greenhouses. Currently, both co-ops are producing organic-based vegetables and hope to shift their operations to full organic production in the future, reported Ramon Bag-1w, DA-RFU-CAR staff assigned to provide technical support to both cooperatives.
To further boost organic-based vegetable production in La Trinidad, Benguct, DA with support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan Agricultural Exchange Council (JAEC), and Japan Agricultural Exchange Council Alumni Association of the Philippines (JAECAAP), implements the “Organic-Based Vegetable Production in the Philippines” project.
Dr. Josephine Aben, DA-RFU-CAR staff said that the project shall undertake four main activities such as Technology Development for Soil Improvement of Vegetable Fields, Technology Development for Organic-Based Vegetable Production, Implementation of Soil Improvement and Organic-Based Vegetable Production, and Promotion of Safe and Healthy Marketing of Highland Vegetables.
Aside from the project, the private sector supported the call for the promotion of ecologically sound and sustainable practices for vegetable production in Benguet. This year, the Cooperative Bank of Benguet announced that it will grant loans to qualified students who are interested to pursue a course on organic agriculture at the BSU. Under this financial credit scheme, students can loan P4,000 to P5,000 annually for tuition and school expenses with 12 percent interest.
The Bank has also entered into a partnership with the party-list Butil, to give full scholarship grants to deserving students of BSU. As part of the guidelines set for qualified scholars, they and their parents will participate in a seminar training on organic agriculture which the BSU and the bank will conduct.
Marginalized fanners in the highland are also realizing that organic farming is the way to a brighter future. The Bontoc Organic Citrus Producers Cooperative for instance, have shifted from chemicaldependent farming to organic farming. “They have made a chemical-dependent and financially-draining citrus industry into a lucrative highland farm enterprise,” Mary Buanzi, senior agriculturist from the Mt. Province Office of the Provincial Agriculturist, said.
Landlocked Mt. Province is challenged to become the fruit capital, especially citrus, of Cordillera. In 2000, 71,000 hectares of Mt. Province were utilized for citrus production. The production, however, was affected by aphids, mites, scale mites, and fruitfles.
Worse, it was also infested with Huanglongbin or greening and tristeza. Chemical control of pest greatly limited the income of the farmers and degraded the quality of the citrus fruits.
Buanzi reported that in spite of the problem, several varieties of citrus were able to adapt to the soil and climate in Mt. Province. The crop has great potentials as an income earner for highland farmers and as agro-forestry plant. This encouraged the provincial government, DA and the farmers to work together to withdraw the industry’s dependence on chemical inputs.
The government and local farmers succeeded in this thrust in 2004 when citrus farming in the province expanded to 105,000 hectares. That time, Buanzi said, farmers had high incomes, and organic citrus growers and many others were motivated to follow them. She attributed the successful shift from chemical-dependent citrus production to organic production to the development and implementation of an organic citrus production curriculum under the government’s FFS Program.
Under this FFS program, fanners are required to take crash courses on care and management of citrus and preparation of organic or natural farm inputs, and to undergo a field immersion in the farms of successful citrus growers in Luzon.
From 2003 to 2005, the FFS program trained 40 farmers and extension workers. The trained organic citrus farmers use compost as fertilizers and homemade natural micro-element concoctions to grow their crops.
The farmers are using home concocted or fermented organic farm inputs such as indigenous microorganisms (IMO) to revive soil nutrients and speed up composting; fish amino acid (FAA) to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, induce and strengthen flowering; fermented plant juice (FPJ) to enhance photosynthesis and plant growth; fermented fruit juice (FFJ) which is applied during fruiting to sweeten the fruits; oriental herb nutrient from local ginger and garlic plants applied as pesticide and fungicide; natural attractants for flying insect pests; and, concoctions for seed and seedling treatment to ensure good plant growth.
During and after the training, the farmers did not only shift to organic farming but also increased the number of citrus plantings and expanded their area, even if more farmers were encouraged to learn and adopt the technology on organic citrus production, according to Buanzi. She added that by eliminating chemical inputs, citrus farmers have increased their net income by 50 percent.
Thomas Sadcopen of Maligcong, Bontoc, who was among the first farmers to venture into organic citrus farming, said that his citrus fruit production has increased from 50 to 80 percent. He said that if farmers will shift into organic citrus farming, inputs and cost of production will decline while producing quality citrus.
Through organic farming, he harvested 8 tons of citrus fruits from his farm in 2004. He was able to harvest 300-400 kilograms of quality fruits per tree. Through the Organic Producers and Traders Association and LaTOP, about 25 percent was sold in Metro Manila markets and 10 percent was sold in the Baguio City La Trinidad markets. The remaining 65 percent, on one hand, was sold in the local market in Bontoc, Mt. Province.
According to Buanzi, citrus growers in Bontoc earn more by going organic. Local consumers buy locally grown citrus even if it is more expensive because they know that it is safer and healthier to eat. Consumers and producers attest that locally grown organic citrus are “juicier, meatier, bigger, and sweeter than the pale imported citrus.”
In the past, more lands were cultivated because of the need for increased food production in the Cordillera. The land cultivation, however, fell short in terms of quality environment and long-term land productivity. There is no doubt that the country’s population grows everyday and the pressure to allot more land into production also increases. The problems related to this trend, like environmental degradation, are experienced everyday in third world countries.
After noting the negative impact of agriculture and infrastructure in developing countries, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), estimated “that in the next 20 years, farmers in these countries will have to nearly double their productivity to provide sufficient food for a healthy and active population.”
In the Cordillera, this reality compels agricultural stakeholders to increase food production and safeguard the environment. Thomas Killip, presidential assistant for CAR, pointed out that food production should not cause problems such as ravaging of croplands and forest covers, erosion and depletion of soil and water resources. Killip has also said that agricultural stakeholders should review and improve their traditional farming practices in the region.
“If many persist to farm in the conventional ways, we may cause irreversible damage to the ecosystem and threaten the long-term economic viability of mountain communities and the country as a whole,” Killip said in a recent meeting of the Regional Kalahi (AntiPoverty) Convergence Group (RKCG).
The RKCG and the National Economic Development Authority have also united with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, DA, and National Irrigation Administration in- encouraging the protection of watersheds and in documenting, promoting and developing the region’s indigenous and sustainable rice terraces. These farming practices promote soil and water conservation.
Killip also noted that some traditional crops in the region which have been organically grown for hundreds of years need not be replaced with high yielding varieties. Known for their unique flavor and aroma, these crops should instead be cared for, processed and packaged properly and then sold in high-end markets. These crops, according to Killip include the old Arabica coffee in Benguet and Mt. Province, Robusta coffee in Kalinga, and highland paddy rices in all provinces of the Cordillera.
Moreover, the Cordillera coffee, which was organically grown and processed is slowly making a name in the local market.
Indigenous highland rice particularly the unoy and tinawon varieties, on the other hand, are among the high-quality and favorite products in the U.S. gourmet market, according to Mary Hensley, president of the Eighth Wonder Company that sells Cordillera heirloom rice in the USA. She was in the Philippines last June to help in the processing of around 20 metric tons of Cordillera heirloom rice for export to the USA this year.
NEDA-CAR Director Juan Ngalob said that organic and sustainable agricultural projects are the types of development interventions that truly reach out to the poor in the region. He added that these are for the well-being of Filipinos especially the highland farmers, but these will only be realized if the initiatives for the promotion of sustainable organic and traditional highland agriculture practices succeed.