By SHERWIN DE VERA
VIGAN CITY — Officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) admitted that the government cannot get rid of chemical inputs during a press conference here on June 21.
The officers, in-charge of the agency’s organic agriculture program, were in the Heritage City for the Second Regional Organic Agriculture Congress in Ilocos from June 20-22. The activity is among the agriculture department’s effort to popularize the practice of going organic in the country.
The Organic Agriculture Act of 2010 (RA 10068), approved on April 26, mandates the promotion and development of organic agriculture in the country. Provisions of the law include the establishment of National Organic Agricultural Program; environmental protection, the need for accreditation, registration, labeling and certification of organic products; and incentives for those who practice organic agriculture.
“After ng ilang taon na pagimplement ng organic agriculture program nakita po natin na mayroong mga constraints and challenges at nangangailangan ng fine tuning,” said Junibert de Sagun, National Deputy Program Coordinator of the organic agriculture program. He said both houses of Congress are currently studying the proposed amendments in the law.
He added that DA’s target area to be converted into organic agriculture production is only 7% of the total production areas in the country, in recognition of the difficulty to transfer from conventional farming to organic.
In Region 1, there are 50 learning sites for organic agriculture. Five of these are located in Ilocos Sur that includes the vegetable garden ran by the Ilocos Sur Provincial Jail.
Two agriculture systems
“Dapat nating malaman dito sa ating bansa ay dalawa na ngayon ang isinusulong na sistema ng agrikultura,” said Jeffrey Laruan, an organic farmer from Benguet and member of the National Organic Agriculture Board.
He explained the government is promoting ‘good agricultural practice’ and ‘organic agriculture’. According to him, the former is a kind of sustainable farming “pero ito ay nagaadvocate pa rin ng gamit ng synthetic chemicals mula abono hanggang pamatay peste.” But he said, guidelines are set that farmers must follow so that the level of toxicity is regulated.
Laruan described the country’s organic agriculture policy as ‘still under its infancy stage’ facing difficulties and challenges. He pointed as an example the reduction of the proposed 2019 budget for the program promotion from P1.0 billion to P600 million.
“[Organic agriculture] is already institutionalized because of the law. Conducting this ROAC is an effort to mainstream [it] pero hindi natin maiwan ang synthetic or conventional agriculture,” he said.
His statements stemmed from the question of the press on why the agriculture department and local governments still distribute chemical fertilizers despite the law.
Representative Deogracias Savellano of the First District of Ilocos Sur expressed his concern over the costly accreditation and certification.
“We need to study how to amend the law, we are pushing the popularization of organic agriculture but once you have your produce, you need P132,000 to pay private companies to certify your product,” he said in Iloko. The figure is the estimated cost for the procedure according to DA officials.
He emphasized that amending the law should focus on how to allow and assist ordinary farmers to practice organic production.
The lawmaker also expressed dismay over the reduction of budget for the organic agriculture program and the high volume of inorganic chemical import in the country.
Masagana 99, TNCs the culprit
“Alam nyo naman po na for how many decades ay na-used na tayo sa conventional, mula noong Masagana 99 pwersahan or talagang massive ang advocacy natin noon ng Green Revolution na ang kaakibat ay malakas na suporta sa inorganic fertilizers at pesticides, nagpapautang nga tayo noon ng mga heavy inputs,” narrates Orlando Lorenzana, regional technical director for research and regulations of DA.
He said eventually, people realized the food they were producing and eating under the program promoted by the government was no longer safe, it was containing high amounts of residues from insecticides. Even farmers using the insecticides eventually acquired diseases associated with deadly chemicals.
Masagana 99 was a program under Ferdinand Marcos aimed at increasing the production of rice using government credit, and high yielding varieties and chemical inputs. According to IBON Foundation, pesticide importation increased five-fold in only six years under the program, benefiting agrochemical transnational corporations.
Asked by the media if the influence exerted by agrochemical corporations’ influenced government policies (the DA and Congress) or affected the implementation of the law, Savellano and Lorenzana answered on the affirmative.
“Tama yun! Kung titignan natin ang history dati ay we are not dependent on chemicals, pero noong pumasok ang mga Amerikano at multinational corporations unti-unti ng pinatay ang local products and practices natin,” the solon said.
For the DA’s part, Lorenzana said that, “tama ang sabi na naka-strain ang lobby ng mga fertilizer, pesticide at insecticide companies.” # nordis.net