Bukidnon urged to go organic to sustain agri resources

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 4 Jan) – Bukidnon going organic to sustain its agriculture resources was among the key insights shared by leaders from different stakeholders on their outlook for agriculture in the province in 2018.

In his comment for the “Bukidnon 2018: Public Outlook” series, organic farming advocate Junah Bayag said the province should become “an organic backyard garden for health, soil, soul and society.”

An organic farm in Malitbog, Bukidnon. MindaNews file photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

Only five percent of the farmers in the Philippines have shifted to organic farming, with the country at least 30 years behind the international community in the shift, he said.

“Government agencies should help make the community be aware about learning sites worthy to be visited and learned from,” he added.

Organic farming policy, practice

Republic Act 10068, which became a law in 2010, provided for the development and promotion of organic agriculture in the Philippines.

The Department of Agriculture in Region 10 reported in October 2017 that of the 26,644.47 hectares in the region targetted for organic farming, only 10,034.77 (or 37.7 percent) hectares have gone organic.

The DA, as quoted in media reports, cited that Northern Mindanao’s organic farms are in Misamis Oriental (187 has), Misamis Occidental (7,376 has), Bukidnon (611.17 has), Lanao del Norte (1,820.6), and Camiguin (40 has).

In Bukidnon, the area so far is less than 1 percent of its 349,905 hectares of land used for agriculture. The province passed an organic agriculture code in 2011 patterned after RA 10068 and set an annual allocation of P5 million budget for organic agriculture.

Bayag, tapped by the Agriculture Training Institute (ATI) as trainer, runs the Jaya Secret Garden, also in Malaybalay City, “where you will experience going, growing and glowing with nature.”

He said in a telephone interview that no other effort can help the shift except for citizens to visit learning sites for organic farms.

“Let’s show to them how important is the role of farmers to feed millions,” Bayag added.

Reynaldo Gil Lomarda, of Greenminds Inc., a non-government organization committed to the preservation and protection of the environment, said they wished for a “comprehensive and collaborative effort from government agencies for the organic agriculture sector.”

Greenminds Inc. runs Umanika Farm in Malaybalay City, another organic farm learning site.

“It would be better if government agencies will complement each other rather than repeat what is being done,” he said. Lomarda suggested that if one talks about training, then the ATI should attend to it. If machineries, then it should be the DA.

“What is happening now is every agency is doing other stuff, thus losing their focus,” he pointed out.

Lomarda said there is no strict on-the-ground monitoring if those claiming to be organic are really such.

“Certification is easy and affordable if we work as one, both private and government,” he added.

Ma. Eloisa Akut, rural organizer of ATI in Northern Mindanao, said the way to go is through the youth and the rural-based groups because they are in the forefront of farming in the communities.

ATI noted that the youth have become less interested in farming so government must have projects that would help reverse the trend.

She said they are tapping the youth’s potential through scholarships and 4H Club, a youth farming group.

Akut noted that they needed the help of the local government units in this.

For example, she said ATI can only provide training but it is the LGU who could help provide fares and other monitoring support via local agriculture extension workers.

She said LGUs should also have scholars for students taking agriculture.

“Unfortunately, among many LGUs agriculture education is not a priority. Also, not all LGUs have functional extension workers and have helped develop 4H Clubs,” she said via telephone.

Bukidnon fourth district board member Ranulfo Pepito, who chairs the provincial board’s committee on agriculture, said the province has already made progress in promoting organic agriculture through focal persons and other promotional mechanisms.

But so far the result is still “barely visible,” he lamented. Pepito noted the presence of learning sites and a local organic farmers’ group maintaining stalls in the public market.

What ails implementation?

Pepito said among the problems include less interest among the youth in farming and the old school farmers’ openness to organic farming.

“There is a misconception that if they go organic it would mean less productivity. That’s only for the start because of the adjustments,” he pointed out.

He cited the attitude of some farmers that they know better so they stick to using what they got used to – synthetic inputs.

Pepito lamented the attitude of the youth to veer from agriculture because of their perception that it is difficult.

“Whether we like it or not, we need to eat. Someone has to produce food,” he stressed. He said there are those who responded to the promotion and have chosen high value crops like lettuce produced organically because it commands a high price in the domestic market.

The government, he said, should really assist in organizing individual players to form federations or cooperatives so they can access financing and marketing assistance.

Pepito also lamented the problem of inconsistency in programming earlier in the implementation of the law, especially in the community level. He cited that some focal persons for organic farming were the same persons sent to attend promotion activities of firms producing synthetic inputs like fertilizers.

“I hope it’s no longer the case now,” he added.

He said there is no argument on the province being home to large agricultural plantations. Pepito said Bukidnon still has the most suitable lands for their crops, noting some of these multinational firms already have initiatives in organic farming.

But his advice to landowners is not to lease out all their lands.

“Leave a portion where you can plant for your consumption and diversify on it,” Pepito added.

He added that it might be possible that Bukidnon could declare as open only for organic farming but noted it has to consult its stakeholders, including the plantations.

Bukidnon as haven for MNCs

Pepito said although he heard that multinational companies prefer to hire employees via contractors, they might be forced to comply as the no end of contract (Endo) is already a national law.

He said the provincial government has set policies for rate for lease of lands, employment of landowners’ workforce and “no endo.”

In his inputs to the “Bukidnon 2018: Public Outlook” series, board member Nemesio Beltran cited the expansion of multinational firms’ pineapple and banana plantations in the province.

“This will result to increased productivity, more exportation and therefore more dollars coming in to our country, employment generation and more taxes for the local government units. He cited it will be beneficial to the landowners because of the increase in rent among other perks.

Roderico Bioco, president of the Bukidnon Kaamulan Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. said the unabated expansion of fruit companies is only one of the forecasts in 2018. He said corn volume and prices will be good in 2018, unlike the case of sugar.

He added that livestock and poultry will also do well next year.

“(There are) more innovations in the agricultural sector coming in as new markets will be opened up for high quality, food safety compliant and added value products,” he said in a text message.

Educator Dr. Lourdes G. dela Torre said, however, that farmer-producers will still suffer from lack of protection in marketing their products.

“They are still and will always be at the mercy of the middlemen in Cagayan de Oro,” said Dela Torre, who belongs to a family of vegetable farmers in Malaybalay City.

She said that local governments in Bukidnon, source of high value vegetable products, should institute a concrete program to free its farmers from being exploited by the middlemen.

Pepito said aside from the local government, the national government should aggressively interfere in the agriculture sector so that farmers can compete globally.

He said the Department of Agriculture should provide subsidies to farmers for capital and inputs, not just leave them on their own.

“One reason why farmers in Asian countries like Thailand can afford to export their products to us is because they got subsidy from their government,” he added.

Pepito said as for the case of sugar, farmers should learn to diversify if prices will not go up due to the importation of High Fructose Corn Sugar (HFCS).

But Emelyn Tomasino Paano, 64, who farms corn and sugarcane, said she still prefers to plant sugarcane and is hopeful that sugar prices will still go up.

“We got used to planting sugarcane. I will not plant any other crop,” she added.

Aniceto Romano, who represents the sugarcane field laborers in the District Tripartite Council of a sugar milling district in Bukidnon, said sugarcane laborers, too, should be organized so that they would be able to avail of benefits provided by law like the social amelioration fund.

He said organizing the small and itinerant sugarcane laborers is a priority in Bukidnon so that they can empower themselves and assert for their rights.

“That’s the way to industrial peace in the agriculture sector,” he said. (Walter I. Balane with a report from Rashia Mae Deva E. Paano/Bukidnon State University Development Communication intern.)

[BUKIDNON 2018: PUBLIC OUTLOOK SERIES is a community journalism project that seeks to provide space for the public to speak up on the future of the province in 2018. The editorial team sent text messages and sought street interviews with random sources from different sectors in the province from December 25 to 28, 2017. The responses were consolidated and categorized thematically and then used as bases for stories in these pieces. React to waltzib@gmail.com.]