Gov’t should reveal plan how to spend P2.5 billion economic stimulus fund for food production

FEBRUARY 11, 2009

ATTY. EFREN MONCUPA

Lead Convenor, Go Organic! Philippines

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RECENT development such as the slight increase in the price of rice in the market is something consumers really need to worry about. The daunting problem of food security, after all, is everybody’s concern.

While no less than Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap has allayed fears of yet another food crisis with the shortage in the supply of rice, saying such is a normal occurrence during this time of the year during the transition phase between the wet and dry harvest seasons, doubts have been cast as to how the government intends to address the problem in the long run.

Precisely this is because lawmakers themselves failed to identify how the recent budget for food production under the economic stimulus fund will be spent and which agency is in charge of spending this particular budget item.

Potential solutions to the perennial food crisis vis-à-vis food production shortfalls, particularly in rice can be expected considering the availability of a P2.5 billion economic stimulus fund for food production had been announced by Malacanang.

While some groups said the amount is “not even enough to make a dent to address the perennial food crisis” Go Organic! Philippines are more worried about such limited financial resources for food production eventually going to waste.

For one, we are not even sure if the Department of Agriculture (DA), the agency in charge of food production, will be the one to manage the fund.

Let me quote the special provision on food production: “The amount herein appropriated (P2.5 Billion) shall be used to increase food production, which shall include growing and production of tropical fruits, indigenous crops, expanded production of ruminants, dairy and poultry production including guarantee fund for livestock and poultry, sea cages for Tilapia and Bangus and seaweed production, and acquisition and operation of motorized banca for cluster fishing communities.”

We want to know how exactly is the government going to do that, considering that “of the P2.5-billion stimulus fund for food production, P100 million will go for personal services, P1.4 billion for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE), and P1 billion for capital outlays.”

This is quite vague. We need specifics. We need to know how the fund will be spent to benefit the Filipino people.

The economic stimulus package for food production should be geared towards the promotion of sustainable agriculture that will generate jobs and livelihood opportunities in rural communities.

A comprehensive rural development package centered on the promotion of sustainable agriculture and organic farming is much needed to strengthen Philippine agriculture. Especially through production and postharvest support including technical assistance to farmers, credit support, construction of more postharvest facilities to reduce postharvest losses and marketing support.

The practice of organic farming or nature farming will require the production of organic farm inputs such as organic fertilizer and organic pesticide.

With proper training and technical know how, farmers will be lured to venture into organic fertilizer and organic pesticide production to meet the expected increase in the demand, considering that the DA is pushing for the conversion of 10 percent of the 4 million-hectare Philippine rice fields into organic farm sites.

Substantially reducing the country’s dependence on imported fertilizer will require the massive production of organic fertilizer and organic pesticides.

The production of organic fertilizers and organic pesticides could eventually start a new industry, which could provide livelihood opportunities and generate jobs in rural communities.

To encourage farmers to venture into organic fertilizer and botanical pesticides production, the government should initiate more capacity-building seminars and training that will empower the farmers with the technical know-how to start their own business.

In the long run, support services should also be designed for the expected increase in production of organically-grown agricultural products, particularly rice, fruits and vegetables, which will require the establishment of postharvest facilities for organic agricultural produce, to ensure that the will be free from contamination from other agricultural produce that were applied with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

This way, we will have more micro-entrepreneurs in rural communities who will provide jobs, more than just farmers.

Group calls for organic farming support system among LGUs, private sector

ORGANIC farming advocates on Monday called for an effective ‘organic farming’ support system among local government units (LGUs) and private sector partners to help promote organic farming and boost country-wide rural development.

Atty. Efren Moncupa, lead convenor of Go Organic! Philippines said institutional support from LGUs as well as the private sector, particularly rural banks and other credit financing institutions is much needed to promote organic farming, especially during these trying times when the global financial crisis is expected to hit hard on the poorest of the poor in developing countries like the Philippines.

An expert from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) predicted that another rice crisis is expected to hit poor Asian countries like the Philippines because of the global financial crisis which will trigger global economic slowdown – which means hunger and poverty incidence, especially in rural communities are expected to worsen in the coming months.

As a strategy in fighting hunger and poverty, and increasing farmers’ incomes, the Department of Agriculture through the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) launched last year the Organic Field Support Program (OFSP) which aims to promote organic farming in the Philippines.

Go Organic! Philippines, a consortium of nongovernment organizations and advocates of organic farming led by the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) and the La Liga Policy Institute (La Liga) is taking the lead in implementing Phase I of OFSP,  The group is now aggressively promoting organic farming.

This is in preparation for the immediate conversion of 10 percent of the 1.9 million hectares rice fields into organic farm sites by 2010.

FIELDS or Fertilizer, Irrigation and other rural infrastructure like farm-to-market roads, Education and extension work, Loans, Dryers and other post-harvest facilities, and Seeds is the DA’s main thrust to achieve the country’s rice self-sufficiency target.

Moncupa, a former agrarian reform undersecretary, said this support system can be in the form of technical assistance and more subsidies specifically for the promotion of organic farming such as seeds, organic fertilizers and organic pesticides, or by offering low interest rates on loans, credits and financing, to encourage farmers to shift from conventional farming to the more sustainable organic farming.

“For farmers to shift from conventional farming to organic farming, LGUs and private sector need to provide adequate support,” Moncupa said.

For LGUs, this can be in the form of extension services and subsidy specifically for organic fertilizer or organic pesticide, or cash incentive to those who choose to go organic, while for rural banks and other financing institutions, this can be in the form of offering low interest rates on loans to allow farmers to cultivate more of those otherwise productive land that remain uncultivated because of lack of capital, Moncupa said.

The same appeal was echoed by Jaime “Ka Jimmy” Tadeo, President of Paragos-Pilipinas and spokesperson of Go Organic! Philippines, who said that farmers who choose to go organic will be encouraged to shift from conventional farming to organic farming “if and only if” adequate government and private sector support are made available.

“Providing farmers with low-interest rates loans or providing seeds or planting materials; or organic fertilizer subsidy will definitely help convince farmers to go organic. Without any or all of these support, farmers will be left with a choice between sticking to agrochemical agriculture or leave their farm idle altogether because they will not earn enough to survive considering the high cost of imported chemical fertilizers anyway,” he said.

Go Organic! Philippines launches radio program

Go Organic! Philippines, a consortium of nongovernment and farmers’ organizations advocating sustainable agriculture through organic farming, announces the launching of its radio program on February 15, 2009.

Produced by the La Liga Policy Institute (La Liga) for Go Organic! Philippines, the program entitled “Go Organic!” will be aired on DZRB “Radyo ng Bayan” every Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.

The live magazine and talk show with taped segments feature “Walastik Organik”, the hip and practical farmer-cartoon character, who will provide useful tips on organic farming to other farmer-practioners, as well as answer live questions from listeners via the Go Organic! Philippines infotext hotline.

It will also feature “Kwentuhang Organik” where farmer-practitioners, LGUs and businesses on organic agriculture will be invited as guest to share their success stories during a 10-minute question-and-answer segment.

The program will also feature a 14-episode drama segment entitled “Si Lani at Pangako ng Lupa”, a segment co-produced with the Foundation for Information Technology Education and Development, Inc. under their Education for All Thru Radio program. It is a compelling drama of a widow’s struggle in life after her husband, a farmer, died of lung disease he acquired from years of exposure to toxic vapors of chemical fertilizers and pesticides he used in his farm everyday.

Lani’s life-changing decision to keep her small farm despite being heavily indebted to, and attempts by “Mr. Bigatin”, a landlord and loan shark in their town to grab their land, highlights how a shift from conventional farming to the more sustainable organic farming can actually help improve the lives of small farmers like Lani, by making organic farming a way of life.

“The program aims to highlight the benefits of “going organic” in terms of health, environment and increased farmer’s income,” says Roland Cabigas, Managing Director of La Liga.

The radio program will also highlight success stories from farmers, business establishments and LGUs, as well as provide consumers with information on where to buy organic products, recipes using organic products and handy tips on going organic, Cabigas said.

“This radio program is part of our on-going partnership project with the Department of Agriculture, Phase 1 of the Organic FIELDS Support Program. We hope that by using Quad-media, print, internet, TV and radio, we can reach out and help people from various sectors who want to make that important first step to Go Organic!”

Organic farming advocates call on lawmakers to prioritize ‘organic farming’ bills

A consortium of nongovernment organization has called on lawmakers to step up the passage of a bill that will promote organic farming as a strategy in fighting rural poverty in the Philippines.

Atty. Efren Moncupa, lead convenor of Go Organic! Philippines said the passage of an organic farming or organic agriculture bill will boost current efforts to convince farmers to shift from conventional farming to the more sustainable organic farming, as it will not only institutionalize funding support to the sector but will create administrative bodies that will oversee the implementation of programs as part of the government’s commitment to sustainable agriculture.

Go Organic! Philippines taking the lead in implementing the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) program called Organic FIELDS Support Program Phase 1, which aims to promote organic farming in the Philippines.

Led by the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) and La Liga Policy Institute (LLPI), Go Organic! Philippines is now aggressively promoting organic farming in seven cities and municipalities in Luzon.

FIELDS or Fertilizer, Irrigation and other rural infrastructure like farm-to-market roads, Education and extension work, Loans, Dryers and other post-harvest facilities, and Seeds is the DA’s main thrust to achieve the country’s rice self-sufficiency target.

Moncupa, a former agrarian reform undersecretary said, the passage of a bill that will promote and institutionalize funding and other support to organic farming or organic agriculture is important, considering that the global financial crisis is expected to impact on the poorest of the poor in developing countries like the Philippines.

Saying organic farming is the way to go in the face of yet another food crisis because of the expected increase in the price of oil and agrochemical inputs in the world market, he appealed to lawmakers to make the organic bills in the House of Representatives and the Philippine Senate a top priority.

“There are bills pending for approval in the House of Representatives and the Philippine Senate and all our lawmakers. These bills were filed by lawmakers as they recognize the urgency of the situation,” he said.

Among the bills that were filed in the House of Representatives are House bill No. 3466 filed by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, which calls for the promotion of Bio-Organic Farming in the Philippines. The bill calls for the creation of a comprehensive bio-organic farming program to adopt and develop the propagation of bio-organic cultivation and production methods. Among its salient provisions is the creation of the Bio-Organic Farming Authority or BOFA.

House Bill No. 3123 filed by Rep. Gilbert Violago, meanwhile calls for the use of an “Ecolabel” and the creation of an organic agriculture committee that will establish the procedure for the application for the right to use issue “Ecolabel” authorizations.

Meanwhile, House Bill No. 4266 filed by Rep. Edgar M. Chato calls for the creation of an Organic Farming Commission and establishment of a National Organic Farming Program for the development and propagation of organic cultivation and production methods.

House Bill No. 4746, meanwhile calls for the Production of Organically Produced Foods through the establishment of a National Standard Production for Organically Produced Products and for the Labeling of Organically Produced Products.

The bill, which was filed by Rep. Narciso Santiago also calls for the creation of a National Organic Production Program that focuses on certification of products produced according to organic method, and Development of an Organic Label to be affixed to agricultural products that have been organically certified.

Another bill, House bill 4118 filed by Rep. Proceso J. Alcala, meanwhile, calls for the Creation of an Organic Farming Commission (OFC) to implement Organic Farming Program and the creation of Local Executive Committees in each province. The bill also calls for the establishment of organic fertilizer counters where farmers can access organic fertilizers.

In the Senate, Senate Bill 1376 filed by Senator Loren Legarda and Senate Bill 1898 filed by Senator Manny Villar calls for the establishment of an Organic Agriculture Program and an Organic Agriculture Research, Development and Extension Network.

The two bills both call for the creation of Organic Fertilizer and Pesticides Production and Processing Centers, and the establishment of the Organic Agriculture Council.

In the same manner, Senate Bill 371 filed by Senator Jinggoy Estrada, Senate Bill No. 830 filed by Senator Rodolfo Biazon and Senate Bill 1546 filed by Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri promotes sustainable agriculture through the establishment of bio-organic farming program, the Bio-Organic Farming Authority, and Bio-Organic Demonstration Farms.

At the peak of her nursing career OFW returns home to start organic chicken, veggie farm in Alaminos City

Josielyn Velonza was at the peak of her career as a practicing nurse in Thailand almost two years ago when she decided to pack up her bags and decided to go back to her home town in Pangasinan – to start an organic farm.

Today, together with her partner, David Oman, a Briton, Josielyn’s organic chicken and organic vegetable farms produce broiler and fresh eggs, tilapia, rice (which by the way is exclusively for the family’s consumption) and selected fruits and vegetables, making their dream of producing ‘healthier’ food come true.

They are getting the much needed support from the Department of Agriculture and through the Organic Fields Support Program (OFSP) Phase 1 and local government of Alaminos City.

The OFSP Phase 1 aims to promote organic farming as part of the DA’s commitment to promote sustainable agriculture in the Philippines.

Maawi Organic Chicken Farm and Maawi Vegetable Farm now supply some of the country’s first class hotel and restaurants which serve organic dishes to their health buffs clientele.

Usually, the hotel guests and restaurant customers are foreigners, whose appetite demand for ‘healthier food’ which can only mean chemical-free food or simply called ‘organic’.

“We talk to chefs who personally choose the food they prepare for their guests,” she said, adding that some of them are Germans, French, Italians and Australians, who are very particular with the quality of their supply in the kitchen. “They want it fresh and they want it chemical-free,” she said.

“I’m a nurse and my job is basically to nurture sick people… to make them healthy,” she said, explaining why she wants to steer clear of agrochemical agriculture.

“Organic is a lot better. It is healthier and friendly to the environment,” she said.

The 41-year-old proprietor of Maawi Organic Chicken Farm in Sitio Kuala, Tagudin, Municipality of Mabini and Maawi Organic Vegetable Farm in Barangay Maawi, Alaminos City, used to work as a company nurse for the Chiva-Som International Health Resort in Thailand, where she met Oman, an IT consultant who loves talking about ‘healthy’ food.

“It was actually my partner and financier who convinced me to go back to my home town in Pangasinan. To start an organic farm where we will raise healthier food,” she said.

A graduate of Lyceum – North Western Pangasinan, Josielyn flew to Thailand in December 1996. Later in September 2007, she is back in her home town in Mabini, starting up their organic farm.

“I told him that our family has a seven-hectare farm in Alaminos where we grow organic rice, and he said that’s awfully big for producing organic rice for one family’s rice consumption, so we conducted a feasibility study and here we are,” she said.

David said the idea is to make the organic farms sustainable.

He said crop rotation is a practice in the vegetable farm, which he learned from, he admits, from his own extensive research and self-study about organic farming systems and technologies.

“We produce the organic fertilizers from rice hull and chicken manure to make our vegetable farm productive. We also use botanical pesticides which we produce from materials that we also source from our farm from time to time, to keep our fruits and vegetables free from pest and diseases,” Oman said.

Oman makes fertilizer from the “bokashi”, a Japanese term for organic fertilizer, and makes use of fermented fruit juice and fermented plant juice for the rapid composting.

The farm also has its own vermi-compost facility, which makes use of the African night crawler as “agent” in producing organic fertilizer from wastes.

The couple also grows organic tilapia at a fish pond within the vegetable farm.

The farm’s free-range organic chicken is hatched from eggs imported from Spain.

From the time they are transported to the farm, it takes 90 days or three months to grow. The chicken weighs an average of 2.7 kilos live. When dressed, the broiler weighs around 1.8 to 2 kilos. The farm sells broiler at P240 per kilo.

Eggs produced by their layers, according to David, are exceptionally bigger than commercially available eggs from ordinary chicken poultry. The eggs cost around P9.25, P10.25 up to as much as P12, depending on their size.

The farm now has 1,000 layers, which at one time, produces 1,200 eggs per day.

According to Josielyn, their French free-range chickens are more resistant to diseases. The meat is more tender, and better-tasting.

“We feed them with commercial feeds that are free from chemicals and anti-biotics,” says David, to maintain their being “organic.”

Since the couple practices crop rotation, the vegetable farm produces just enough vegetable and fruit to supply three to five hotels and restaurants, mostly in Manila.

“There is definitely a big demand for organic chicken, fruits and vegetables.

The Maawi farms, according to Josielyn, were not spared from the havoc of

“Typhoon Cosme” which devastated Northern Luzon, particularly Pangasinan.

Alaminos and Mabini were among the hardest hit by the typhoon, which destroyed millions worth of property and agricultural products.

Maawi farms were among those severely affected by typoon, says Josielyn.

In fact, she said all that they have put up were swept away by the typhoon.

“After the typhoon, we’re back to square one,” Josielyn said.

The couple said they lost basically all the money they invested to construct the farms, which is roughly estimated to reach around P17 million.

But Josielyn and David are confident of making a rebound this year, what with the demand for ‘healthier’ food becoming a trend nowadays.

In fact, David said with people realizing the benefits of eating ‘healthier’ food from organic farms like Maawi’s organic farming can even become a lucrative business here in the Philippines one day.

‘Through organic farming’ Traditional varieties produce, reproduce better seeds than hybrids-group

SAYING traditional rice varieties produce superior seeds than hybrid rice varieties, activist Jaime “Ka Jimmy” Tadeo has called for the massive cultivation of ‘organic’ rice in the country to produce more seeds for the farmers who are planning to shift from conventional farming to organic farming.

Tadeo, spokesperson of Go Organic! Philippines said seeds produced by traditional rice varieties are superior because from those seeds, propagation of more planting materials is possible compared to high-yielding and fast-growing hybrid rice varieties from which seed propagation is not possible, apart from the fact that they are highly-dependent on agrochemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides.

“If every farmer will devote at least one fourth of their rice field paddies for the cultivation of traditional rice variety, they may no longer have to buy expensive hybrid rice seeds that are addicted to chemicals and water, and yet sometimes defective,” he said.

Tadeo was referring to the incident in Nueva Ecija, wherein some farmers are experiencing problems with the hybrid rice variety that they have planted early this dry cropping season.

The farmers are worried that they might get low yield and income because the SL-8H, one of the recommended hybrid rice varieties in the country, has a stunted growth. It also did not produce more tillers and some are already flowering, which means they may not get sufficient grains as promised.

To address the issue, several teams composed of staff from the DA-Regional Field Unit 3, the Philippine Rice Research Institute, the Local Government Unit (LGU), and the SL Agritech Corporation, the company that produced the seed, were tasked to conduct technical evaluation of the alleged abnormal growth performance of SL-8H.

The initial advice of the said teams to farmers who planted SL-8H is to have an advance application of the Nitrogen fertilizer intended for topdressing. This will help in the improvement of the rice plants and the faster growth of the secondary tillers, thus, producing more yield.

Go Organic! Philippines through its affiliates, the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) and the La Liga Policy Institute (La Liga), are taking the lead in implementing Phase I of the Organic FIELDS Support Program (OPSF) in partnership with the Department of Agriculture through the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM).  The group is now aggressively promoting organic farming.

FIELDS or Fertilizer, Irrigation and other rural infrastructure like farm-to-market roads, Education and extension work, Loans, Dryers and other post-harvest facilities, and Seeds is the DA’s main thrust to achieve the country’s rice self-sufficiency target.

Tadeo, an organic farming advocate, said while hybrid rice varieties produce more grains, traditional rice varieties are superior in quality.

“Every grain is firmer, heavier, aromatic, and better-tasting. That is if they are organically grown,” he said.

According to Tadeo, hybrid rice can not produce seeds for purpose of replanting the following cropping season.

“That’s why you pay a lot for their technology. You will keep on buying seeds every time. But if we plant traditional rice varieties, we may no longer need to spend that much for planting materials because we can grow seeds ourselves,” he said.

According to Tadeo, because of too much agrochemical inputs, hybrid rice, when cooked, lasts for only a day or two, because they spoil easily unlike traditional rice varieties that last for four to five days.

Tadeo said this is because hybrid rice varieties are designed for fast consumption.

To feed 80 percent of the world’s population, scientists developed high-yielding and fast-growing rice varieties, but usually require a lot of fertilizers and other agrochemical inputs

Hybrid rice has proven to be superior to inbred rice varieties, in terms of yield.

While the government through the GMA Rice Program of the Department of Agriculture (DA) has been pushing for the increased use of hybrid rice, Tadeo said farmers should also consider shifting from conventional to the more sustainable organic farming, which is beneficial not only to farmers in terms of income, but consumers in terms of better health and environment, as well.

Still reeling from onslaught of typhoon “Reming” Oriental Mindoro town mayor urges farmers to go organic to survive crisis

STILL reeling from the devastation of typhoon “Reming” and the perennial problem from pests such as rats and birds, Naujan, Oriental Mindoro Mayor Romar G. Marcos is urging farmers to shift from conventional to organic farming to survive the looming global financial crisis.

Pinning his hopes on organic farming for farmers to recover from their heavy losses as a result of the typhoon, Marcos vowed to include organic farming, particularly organic fertilizer production, in the Annual Investment Plan of the municipality.

“This will institutionalize budget for organic farming,” he said.

The mayor visited the on-going Season Long Training under the Organic FIELDS Support Program (OFSP) Phase 1 of the Department of Agriculture (DA) which is being implemented by the Go Organic! Philippines, a consortium of nongovernmental organizations led by the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) and La Liga Policy Institute (LLPI).

Naujan is one of the seven pilot areas of the OFSP Phase 1, which aims to popularize organic farming in the country, particularly rice – the country’s staple food.

As part of the program, the season-long training, which started last December 21, hopes to empower some 100 farmers’ knowledge in organic farming systems and technologies, including organic fertilizer production.

“The farmers can substantially reduce farm production costs by using organic fertilizers. We are encouraging them to shift to organic farming,” he said.

The mayor stressed that organic fertilizers can be produced by farmers.

“Our farmers need to learn more about organic farming. Organic fertilizer production can actually help them survive from the ongoing crisis,” he said.

The local government provides 100% seed subsidy to farmers. However, because most farmers rely heavily on imported fertilizer which costs around P1,200 to P1,500 per bag, local officials are encouraging them to use organic fertilizers instead, which the farmers can produce using various techniques.

“They can make their own organic fertilizers through composting, using animal manure which they can find in their farm. They can even sell them,” Marcos added.

A bag of organic fertilizer which is commercially available costs P350.

The onslaught of typhoon “Reming” has severely affected farmers who complain that because of the heavy losses, they may not be able hit the town’s rice production target.

The Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO) of Naujan estimated the damage to rice and other crops at P17 million by typhoon Reming, which hit Southern Tagalog from November 30 to December 31, 2006.

Naujan, one of the top rice-producing towns in Oriental Mindoro, produces an average of 3.5 metric tons per hectare of rice.

The Naujan local chief executive said aside from the perennial problem of floods, rat and bird infestation, skyrocketing cost of farm inputs, particularly imported fertilizer, is adding burden to the farmers’ woes.

“With the devastation brought by Reming, we need to adopt measures that offer long-term solution to our problems,” he said, adding that a policy shift that will promote sustainable agriculture such as organic farming in lieu of conventional farming which relies heavily on petrochemical-based farm inputs might do the trick.

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