LGUs in the Philippines

In Lanao del Norte town, use of synthetic fertilizers can land farmers in jail

Merlyn Manos

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In Lanao del Norte town, use of synthetic fertilizers can land farmers in jail

HOST. Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte Mayor Mayor Rommel Arnado welcomes delegates to international events about organic farming in his town. The events run from June 4 up to June 9.

Merlyn Manos / Rappler

For more than a decade, Kauswagan's objective has been to produce healthier food, support sustainable farming systems, and preserve the natural ecosystem

LANAO DEL NORTE, Philippines – A town in Lanao del Norte is gaining recognition among organic farmers as a place where one can go to jail for using synthetic fertilizers.

The town government of Kauswagan has claimed that the municipality is “100% organic,” which means that all its farmers were employing agricultural methods and natural processes and materials, that avoid the use of synthetic chemicals and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The town and its officials have long advocated for organic fertilizers, compost, and crop rotation to sustain soil fertility and biodiversity. Organic farmers prioritize environmentally friendly practices, such as integrated pest management and water conservation.

For more than a decade, Kauswagan’s objective has been to produce healthier food, support sustainable farming systems, and preserve the natural ecosystem.

“We are an advocate of organic agriculture. We’re the only municipality that is focused on promoting organic agriculture in the Philippines,” said Kauswagan Mayor Rommel Arnado.

In Kauswagan, the sale and use of synthetic fertilizers have been prohibited by the town government, with violations incurring a minimum fine of P2,500 for the initial offense, escalating penalties for repeated violations, and potential imprisonment for a maximum of one month for severe cases.

Arnado said the legal requirement mandates the municipal government to allocate only 5% of its political territory to organic farming. However, the town chose to make all its farms 100% organic.

Approximately 8,000 hectares of land in Kauswagan are dedicated to organic farming, while the remaining 2,000 hectares are designated for residential use, public infrastructure, and commerce.

“Here, all crops visible along the roads are organic. We have implemented strict penalties… I believe we are one of the few municipalities in the world, if not the only one, with such an ordinance,” he said.

After 12 years since the local prohibition of synthetic fertilizers and non-organic methods, “we have achieved full organic status,” he said.

Kauswagan has placed itself on the international map, hosting multiple international events on organic agriculture. From Sunday to Friday, June 4-9, the town plays host to the Organic Youth Forum, the 9th Asian Local Government for Organic Agriculture Summit, the 4th Global Alliance of Organic Districts, Women in Organic Agriculture in Asia, and the 6th Organic Asia Congress.

The events have attracted participants from 32 countries, including China, South Korea, Portugal, Maldives, and Mongolia, among others.

More than 500 organic farmers have gathered at Kauswagan’s newly constructed International Organic Convention Center to exchange knowledge, methods, and best practices for enhancing and achieving abundant harvests.

The convention center, constructed at a cost of P150 million, opened after five months of construction in time for the week-long international conventions.

The facility stands on a five-hectare white sand beach property, offering a scenic view with a fountain and clamshell-type venues, an administration building, a cafeteria, accommodation rooms, and two helicopter pads. Its rooms can be shared and  accommodate around 300 delegates.

“This was just a dream before,” Arnado said, adding that their organic farming campaign began with the “arms-to-farms program,” providing farm equipment and livelihood aid to former rebels on condition that they surrender their guns.

“We trained them on mechanized farming. If they didn’t have land, we provided one,” he said.

Lanuakum Imchen, the cultural president of the Young Organics Global Network from Nagaland, India, said, “It’s been a great learning experience, meeting farmers, understanding the best practices of farming groups, and interacting with government officials who are strongly supportive of organic farming. We will take these learnings back home and share them with our government.”

Imchen is attending the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), one of the ongoing international events in Kauswagan.

Another participant, Huong Dang of Vietnam, stressed the importance of comprehending global and Asian advancements in organic agriculture.

“I’m delighted to be here as a youth forum member. I’m participating in the congress to learn about global developments in organic farming, particularly in Asia. It holds great importance for me,” she said.

Teny Ann Johnson from Last Forest Enterprises in Tamil Nadu, India, said children need to become involved by instilling the values of organic farming in their minds.

“We often say that the youth are the future. So, we should include children as well. If they embrace the idea of organic farming as the national approach, it will be much easier to sustain our work,” Johnson said.

Meanwhile, Arnado has assumed leadership of the Asian Local Governments for Organic Agriculture (ALGOA), a sub-organization of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements Asia, which promotes organic agriculture’s comprehensive development.

Mayor Song In-Heon of Goesan County, South Korean, said he was confident that under Arnado, ALGOA would emerge as a prominent international organization advocating for organic agriculture. 

Arnado has also assumed the co-presidency of the Global Alliance of Organic Districts, collaborating with European partners to implement holistic approaches to organic agriculture development in Asia. – Rappler.com

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