[ANALYSIS] Switching from chemical farming to organic farming

The Philippines institutionalized organic agriculture with the passage of Republic Act No. 10068 (Organic Agriculture Act of 2010). This law was recently amended by RA 11511, which adopts the Participatory Guarantee System, a community or group organic certification process that is more affordable than third-party certification.

While much appreciated, the amended law and its implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) do not adequately address the fundamental question of how to wean the 97-98% of (mostly small) producers from agriculture based on chemicals to natural, organic and organic farming. agro-ecological agriculture.

Under our current laws as well as within the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), “organic conversion” begins when a farmer has stopped using agrochemicals and ends when their farming business is declared 100% organic or chemical-free, following a rigorous certification process. IFOAM and Asian Regional Organic Standards (AROS) for market-mandated certification require approximately three years of zero chemical use.

Achieving this goal will take time and resources.

In the meantime, consider this scenario: If all farmers suddenly adopt zero chemical fertilizer use, yields could drop by 50-60%. Many Filipinos will starve, unless we import a lot of rice (5-6 million tons of well-milled rice, costing about 175-210 billion pesos, at 35 pesos per kilogram).

Obviously, an effective organic farming program must take into account the actual conditions of most farmers. It should help farmers undertake a gradual, calibrated reduction in chemical inputs while gradually transitioning to a more robust or all-organic regime.

The fertility of our soils has decreased by almost 40 to 50%. Soil organic matter (SOM) currently ranges from only 1.5 to 2.0%. Our benchmark SOM in the transition process is 3%. Improving soil health (using only crop/weed biomass recycling) is slow. To stop the decline in yield, a large amount of composted organic fertilizer or vermicompost should be introduced. Chemical fertilizers (NPK) can be applied, along with micronutrients and farm-produced compost or humus, as part of a ‘balanced fertilization’ regime. We emphasize compost or humus made by farmers, as their purchase will cost a prohibitive price of P7,000 per hectare (P350/50 kilo bag x 20 bags).

Therefore, the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Local Government Units (LGUs) should provide technical, financial and other support, including the bulk purchase of farm animal manure. Municipalities must encourage poultry or pig farmers to sell their manure only in their localities. Under the Sagip Saka By law, LGUs can source this manure and convert it into composted organic fertilizer for free or paid distribution to farmers.

Organic inputs such as seeds and planting material should also be provided to farmers to facilitate the transition process. For greater sustainability, farmers should be trained to produce and save their own seeds.

From 2022, following the Supreme Court’s decision in the Mandanas case, the share of LGUs in national tax revenue will increase by 27%. LGUs are now expected to dedicate at least 10% of their increased Internal Revenue Allocation (IRA) to agriculture and fisheries programs, with at least a quarter of the IRA earmarked for organic agriculture.

Another equally important need of farming communities is the acquisition of basic equipment, tools and appropriate small machinery. Organic farming is labor intensive. To lighten agricultural work, each village must have a foundry workshop so that farmers can repair, improve, and even locally manufacture agricultural tools and equipment.

Another dimension of the transition to organic farming is to move farming systems from monoculture to biodiverse or integrated farming systems. Organic farming is a multifaceted business. Synergy between component activities occurs (e.g. livestock manure is turned into compost; excess yield of crop biomass is fed to animals). There should be various crops planted as companion/inter crops or as sequence/rotation crops to manage nutrients and pests.

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Unfortunately, many farmers have neglected the traditional cultivation of healthy vegetables. The DA and the LGUs must relaunch”Bahay Kubo Cropping” and provide farmers with planting materials and training. Farmers should have cattle or carabaos to serve as farm energy and sources of manure for composting. An appropriate subsidy and/or credit support program will encourage these actions.

The third crucial factor is a significant investment in research, development and extension (RD&E) on organic conversion technologies, which address transition processes and procedures to facilitate entry into the conversion stage (zero chemical input). Pure and adaptive research on organic agriculture in transition also needs funding from the DA and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

Additionally, motivating farmers to switch to organic farming requires a consumer education campaign on the benefits of organic products. Consumers need to wake up to the real costs of chemical agriculture to our health and our planetary ecosystem.

This calls for the Planetary Health Diet (PHD), which consists of safe and healthy foods, mostly vegetables, fruits, herbs, legumes, and green salads. We must be guided by the basic principles of organic agriculture (health, ecology, care and fairness).

Conscious consumers must demand healthy and safe foods that will drive supply-side changes (more farmers raising crops and animals organically).

In addition, there should be a “direct consumer-organic farmer partnership” under the Producer-User-Consumer Linkage (PLUS) scheme. This will ensure a decent income for family farmers. Under PLUS, direct product users such as restaurants, hotels and processors will source from producers at a fair price.

A vigorous national campaign should target government, educational and other food-consuming institutions. the Sagip Saka The law allows government agencies, including LGUs, to directly procure organic products during disasters or pandemics for feeding programs for schoolchildren, the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. Commercial companies can also provide their employees with food from organic farming. – Rappler.com

Leonardo Montemayor, former Secretary of Agriculture, is currently Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Federation of Free Farmers.

Teodoro Mendoza, a retired professor from the University of the Philippines Los Banos, is an expert in organic farming systems.

Pablito Villegas owns and operates the Villegas organic and ecotourism farm in Malvar, Batangas.

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