Agriculture chief: Organic farming not for everyone

Patty Pasion
Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol says the market demand should dictate which farming method farmers in different areas can use

SUSTAINABILITY. Farmers are the poorest sector of the country, next to fishermen.

MANILA, Philippines – In his first State of the Nation of Address (SONA), President Rodrigo Duterte bared specific – but long promised – measures to boost agricultural productivity.

“Road development projects shall complement with our thrust to provide modern agriculture infrastructure by expanding and improving the construction and rehabilitation of roads and irrigation, and establishing modern harvest and post-harvest facilities to minimize losses,” he said on Monday, July 25.

The President also committed to conducting nationwide soil analysis to map out the areas where rice farming can thrive through soil rehabilitation and fertilization. (READ: FULL TEXT: President Duterte’s 1st State of the Nation Address)

But while Duterte laid down plans to achieve his campaign promise of reviving agriculture, farmers still ask: How can farming be sustainable?

Farmer-scientist group Masipag calls for the development of organic farming in the Philippines.

“Through organic farming, farmers can produce their own seeds from their harvest and make their own fertilizer by learning how to build compost pits,” Masipag’s Chito Medina earlier said.

Medina said that in this way, farmers don’t have to shell out much capital to buy farming inputs such as seeds and fertilizers. They would be able to increase their take-home revenue. (READ: Duterte’s first SONA: What marginalized sectors want to hear)   

However, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol said the government should not force farmers to use a specific agricultural method.

“I’m an organic farmer, I don’t want to impose on farmers who would like to hang on to their traditional farming method to become organic farmers overnight because that’s gonna destroy our food production program,” Piñol told Rappler after Duterte delivered his SONA.

“Our program right now is to support both organic farming and the traditional farming method. But I believe that you don’t really have to convince farmers. It is the market that will decide, that would have influence on the farming system,” he added.

Piñol cited the case of banana farmers in Davao, who shifted to organic farming when Japan said it did not want pesticides in imported products. 

Farmers remain the second poorest sector next to fishermen. Recent data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that farmers have a poverty incidence of 38.3%.

“[Of the poor farming sector], 68% are below subsistence that’s why we need a farming system that is not expensive,” said Medina.

Based on a study conducted by Masipag, yields from the two farming methods are about the same but organic farming is cheaper.

Under Republic Act 10068, the government is mandated to develop and promote organic agriculture, which is deemed to “enrich the fertility of the soil, increase farm productivity, reduce pollution and destruction of the environment, prevent the depletion of natural resources, further protect the health of farmers, consumers, and the general public, and save on imported farm inputs.” – Rappler.com

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.