Archive for February, 2009

Mayors in rice-producing towns in Luzon meet in QC to push sustainable agriculture

Ten local government units of rice-producing cities and towns in Luzon met in Quezon City yesterday to attend the LGU Caucus for Sustainable Agriculture to push for a national program on sustainable agriculture.

Led by Alaminos City, Pangasinan Mayor Hernani Braganza, a convenor of Go Organic! Philippines, the local chief executives along with their city and municipal agriculture officer, tackled the various issues and concerns in promoting organic farming to veer away from the use of imported agrochemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Among those who took part in the event were Vice Mayor Leonardo Cruz representing Mayor Joel Payumo of Dinalupihan, Bataan; OIC Mayor Felix Expino of Samal, Bataan; Mayor Wilfredo Robles of Baras, Rizal; Mayor Danilo Domingo of Malolos, Bulacan; and, Mayor Domingo Doctor, Jr. of Burgos, Pangasinan.

Other LGU represented were the municipality of Sual and Bani, both from the province of Pangasinan, the municipality of Naujan of Mindoro Oriental and the city of Tabaco in Albay.

Braganza, a former agrarian reform secretary, said local chief executives takes center stage as they take the lead in supporting a national program that actually promotes sustainable agriculture which offers a lasting solution to the perennial food crisis in the country.

An initiative of Go Organic! Philippines, the LGU Caucus for Sustainable Agriculture is designed to be a regular venue for the sharing of experiences, strategies, and lessons among LGUs to strengthen initiatives and identify common challenges for collective action in organic agriculture.

Go Organic! Philippines is a consortium of nongovernment organizations led by the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) and La Liga Policy Institute (LLPI). The group is now aggressively promoting organic farming under Phase I of the Organic FIELDS Support Program (OPSF) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM).

FIELDS stands for Fertilizer, Irrigation and other rural infrastructure like farm-to-market roads, Education and extension work, Loans, Dryers and other post-harvest facilities, and Seeds, the DA’s main thrust to achieve the country’s rice self-sufficiency target by 2010.

“Go Organic! Philippines recognizes the critical role of LGUs in agricultural development. Not only that the LGUs should have the direct feel of the needs of the agriculture sector, the current policy environment as defined in the Local Government Code of 1991, already counts agriculture development as among the devolved functions of government,” Efren Moncupa, lead convenor of Go Organic! Philippines said.

According to Moncupa, successful initiatives on sustainable agriculture by LGUs already exist and must be consolidated so that each of them can be set as an example for others to emulate or follow.

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More investment on organic agri research, development needed

ORGANIC farming advocates are calling on government, as well as private research institutions to invest more on research and development (R&D) that will further improve organic farming practices to boost income of small farmers and protect the environment and health of the farmer’s.

A key component of the government’s thrusts to achieve rice self-sufficiency, organic farming is being eyed as a long-term solution to the rice crisis with the country being the world’s biggest importer of rice in the last two years.

The country’s too much dependence on agrochemical inputs has caused soil deterioration making it less productive with time.

While there are proven effective organic production systems and techniques which farmers can readily adopt to steer away from excessive use of agrochemicals, there is a need to conduct more research to improve, if not perfect, and better understand such farming methods, Efren Moncupa, lead convenor of Go Organic! Philippines said.

Moncupa, a former agrarian reform undersecretary said research and development should focus on how farmers can increase their yield, particularly in rice, to contribute to the country’s food basket and achieve rice self-sufficiency without using chemical-based fertilizers and pesticides, and to allow the soil to regenerate and become productive again.

“Since the government is making a major policy shift that is geared towards the promotion of sustainable agriculture, we need to put more science into organic farming and improve these organic farming practices for the benefit of our small farmers,” Moncupa said.

Jaime “Ka Jimmy” Tadeo, spokesperson of Go Organic! Philippines and chairman of Paragos-Pilipinas, said government research institutions such as the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the University of the Philippines Los Banos and other state colleges and universities with the capacity to conduct independent research on organic rice should take the lead.

“If the government and private research institutions can invest millions in seed technology research and development, why can’t the government invest in something more worthwhile like organic farming R&D which promotes sustainable agriculture that will benefit small farmers?” Tadeo, said.

Tadeo was reacting to government and private research institutions initiatives to develop supposedly superior rice varieties such as the controversial “Golden Rice”, a genetically engineered rice with a precursor for beta carotene to address the problem of malnutrition, particularly vitamin A deficiency that leads to blindness, especially among children.

While lauding such undertaking “in the name of science” Dr. Oscar Zamora, dean of the UPLB Graduate School, expressed doubt that the “Golden Rice” project will actually help improve the country’s rice economy.

Zamora, a professor at the College of Agriculture of UPLB, also expressed doubt that the problem of malnutrition being experienced by children worldwide will be addressed by eating vitamin-enriched rice alone, saying what the people really need is a balanced diet that will sufficiently cover for their nutritional needs as recommended by health experts.

“Golden rice is a very inferior source of vitamin A compared to carrots (217-434 mcg/100mg), spinach (600mcg/100g), radish leaves (750mcg/100g) and the Thai vegetable “Tamlong”, that contains more than 800mcg/100g.  In fact, in the early generation Golden rice, one would have to consume 9 kg of cooked rice everyday to meet the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). Whereas eating 2 carrots a day would more than satisfy the recommendation.” he said.

Zamora, who heads a team of UPLB experts now conducting R&D on organic rice farming as part of the Organic FIELDS Support Program (OFSP) Phase I of the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM), said more research and development on organic farming is needed to because of the location specificity of agricultural technologies and systems, organic farming included.

The team of experts from UPLB is now in the process of gathering data comparing an organic farming system, balanced fertilization and farmer’s practice in Alaminos City, Pangasinan and Baao Camarines Sur, two of seven pilot areas under the OPSF Phase I.

“We need to do more on-farm research on organic rice farming to deepen our understanding of the science and acceptability of this system of rice production to farmers to make rice farming more sustainable ” he said.

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________

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.