Only a few farmers are going organic

Tom Villarin, executive director of the non-government group Siad in Mindanao Convergence for Asset Reform and Regional Development, said most of the farmers practicing organic agriculture are those in remote areas.

"They practice organic agriculture because they have no choice as accessibility to synthetic inputs is difficult," Villarin noted during the "Mindanao Celebration of World Food Day" Monday.

Efforts to promote organic agriculture are also hampered by the presence of big agribusiness companies, who had earlier lured farmers into having their lands planted to pineapple, banana and rubber, among others, he added.

But Villarin, Mindanao representative to the National Organic Agriculture Board, explained that some big agricultural firms in Mindanao have started looking at organically-grown products due to its potentials in the international market.

The board, created through Executive Order 481 signed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in December 2005, seeks to promote organic agriculture practices in the country.

Villarin identified the Mindanao-based companies experimenting on organically grown products as La Frutera, Inc., Marsman Drysdale and Del Monte.

Villarin said acceptance of organically-grown products is not yet high among consumers nationwide due to lack of awareness. Consumers also believe organically grown products are expensive and have no immediate effect to the health. Also, instant food like noodles, is readily available.

Villarin said moves to promote organic agriculture among farmers are not driven by profit but for family food security.
"If the farmer has excess products, he can sell it to the local markets. What we are after (in promoting organic agriculture) is the food security and nutritional value to the farmer and his family," he said.

Villarin estimated some 60,000 hectares of land are planted to fertilizer-free rice in Mindanao, mostly concentrated in the northern and south-central Mindanao area.

Majority of the corn produced by organic farming in the island is the white variety as most yellow corn variety requires synthetic or chemical inputs, he added.

Church workers here have been pushing for organic agriculture because it is environment-friendly to the farmers.

Diocesan priest Fr. Greto Bugas noted that organic farming can help reduce pollution to the environment in the absence of the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which is the mode in conventional farming.

"Moreover, organic farming is the way to improve the lot of farmers because they no longer need to shell out for chemical inputs. It is an environment-friendly farming method," the priest stressed.

"Also, I believed that organic farming is one way to restore the dignity of farmers, wherein they would not be ashamed to say that they are farmers," Fr. Bugas said.

The priest was instrumental in promoting organic farming in the remote Palimbang town in Sultan Kudarat, where hundreds of farmers tend at least 100 hectares of land planted to organically-grown rice. (MindaNews)