DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 13 Aug) – Farmers’ groups and advocates of organic agriculture here said the practice of certifying products as “organic,” institutionalized by Republic Act 10068, is “too slow” and “inaccessible.”
Speaking at a press conference at the Ateneo de Davao University Finster Hall Tuesday, Chito Medina, national coordinator of the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), said the certification practice has only gathered less than one percent of farmers’ produce three years since the law’s implementation.
The law, Medina said, aims to reach five percent of the country’s 9.57 million hectares of agricultural lands.
The problem? Certification costs P150,000, Medina pointed out.
He said farmers would rather go for an alternative and affordable guarantee system called the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), which the group launched the same day.
The MASIPAG officer said some local governments have already practiced the farming certification, which has cost farmers a small fraction of the recommended third-party certification system proposed by the law.
“Certification costs only P700 in Zamboanga and P1,000 in Quezon province,” Medina said, citing a few examples of existing PGS practices.
Medina called the PGS as a more affordable poverty alleviation solution for farmers who cultivate organic agricultural products.
Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr., of Maribojoc town in Bohol, said in an interview that their municipality was already practicing the certification even before an intensity 7.2 earthquake hit parts of Bohol and Cebu last year.
“Organic agriculture is sustainable,” he stressed.
Evasco added the local government made the farming practice easily accessible to farmers, with the LGU providing trainings and tools funded with counterpart from national government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture.
Medina said the PGS “recognized the people on the ground” and added that they were lobbying for a direct revision of the organic agriculture act. “This is the way forward to expanding organic agriculture,” he said.
The City Agriculturist’s Office, MASIPAG said in a statement, was supporting the implementation of the practice. It added that “the PGS is an alternative product certification system more beneficial and appropriate to local and smallholder organic production.”
“We have adapted the PGS as the certification system of Davao City organic products because we believe this will better serve our local and small-scale farmers,” city agriculturist Rocelio Tabay said in a statement.
“The City, with the help of the civil society and farmers organizations, has put in place our own PGS which helps strengthen our organic agriculture program,” Tabay added.
“Having a PGS as a certification system will also ultimately help our ordinary consumers to enjoy safe and healthy organic products,” Anita Morales, chairperson of the Davao City PGS and executive director of the development organization METSA foundation, said in a statement.
“PGS is an inexpensive certification system so farmers and small-scale producers would not have to add too much cost to their organic products,” she added
Product certification is an assurance among the consumers that the organic product has passed the standards on organic agriculture. Certified products usually have a seal or logo from the certifying body.
According to MASIPAG, a two-year leeway has been granted for those that are using first- and second-party certification such as the PGS.
Unlike the third-party certification system, where a government-accredited body is paid for its services to inspect and certify the farmers’ produce, the PGS is done with a multi-sectoral inspection team composed of farmers, consumers and different sectors from the community.
The PGS team can even be a trained team of farmer-inspectors who goes to other communities and farmers’ organizations to inspect, monitor and certify the organic production system. Only minimal fees are given to the PGS team, MASIPAG said.
“In a second-party certification system like the PGS, we are well-represented in the committee and our opinions and knowledge are recognized,” said Jose Ben Travilla, an organic farmer and PGS inspector from Mlang, North Cotabato. “Hence, PGS is more appropriate to our conditions, culture and capacities.”
“Because of the PGS’s participatory and empowering nature, and its emphasis on community-centered marketing, the ordinary consumers have a direct line to the producers so they are able to afford certified organic products,” Travilla said.
MASIPAG’s own PGS, the MASIPAG Farmer’s Guarantee System (MFGS), has been in practice since 2004, and has since been assisting other organizations and LGUs in adapting PGS in their organic agriculture programs.
“Majority of our farmers and producers are resource-poor but with sustainable organic farming, they are able to achieve food security at the household and community level,” said Medina.