Organic food growers seek easier way of certification

DAVAO CITY—Groups of organic farmers and environment advocates are asking the government to make it easier for organic food growers to get certification that is needed to sell their products bearing the organic (grown without chemicals) label.

Dr. Chito Medina, national coordinator of farmers and scientists’ group Masipag, said most farmers in the country stay away from organic food growing because they can’t afford the P50,000 fee for certification of their produce as organic.

Medina said one solution would be to make the certification system more affordable.

In this city, the more affordable certification process, called Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), has been launched to coincide with the opening of the Kadayawan organic food and product fair.

The cost of PGS certification can be as low as P700 to P1,000 for a 2-hectare farm in Quezon province to a high of P3,000 for a farm area of over 2 ha.

“That’s very cheap compared to third-party certification, which costs P50,000 a year,” Medina said during the National Conference on Organic Agriculture held here on Tuesday.

“This way, we can make it more affordable, more accessible to small farmers, who make up most of the food producers in the country,” he said.

The Davao City PGS team is composed of representatives from Masipag, Moral Economic Technological, Socio-Cultural Aspirations (Metsa) Foundation, the environment group Interface for Development Intervention, Go Organic Davao City, Ateneo de Davao University and the City Agriculturist Office, among others.

The certification system would ensure consumers that products classified as organic in the market are really organic.

But the Organic Agriculture Act recognizes only organic produce that are certified through the more expensive third-party system.

“In effect, the law will exclude those who are practicing first, or second-party certifications, among them the PGS,” Medina said.

“Farmers who cannot enter this scheme, mainly small farmers, will not be entitled to grants, incentives and support,” he said.

Anita Morales, Metsa president, said many farmers were now producing organic food, but could not label their produce as such because of the lack of certification. Germelina Lacorte, Inquirer Mindanao

 

Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer

Davao farmers push gov’t institutionalization of guarantee system for organic products

DAVAO CITY — Farmers and other agricultural sector stakeholders are pushing the national government to institutionalize the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) of certification for organic products by amending Republic Act (RA) No. 10068 or the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010.

Section 17 of RA 10068 provides that only products with third party certification is allowed to be labelled as organically produced.

“We are pushing for the recognition of the PGS system for organic products considering that it is a lot cheaper than the third party system and thus more feasible for our small farmers,” said Carmen L. Cabling, PGS Pilipinas president.

While the PGS certification system costs no more than P2,000, Ms. Cabling said, the third party system costs as much as P40,000 per year.

Third party certification is an independent review system that confirms and verifies a claim that a product has complied with the standards set for organic products.

The name of the third party which made the verification is stamped on the product’s label or packaging.

‘MASIPAG’ SYSTEM

Ms. Cabling pointed out that while the Philippine law only recognized the third party system, there is one existing PGS in the Philippines — the MASIPAG Farmers’ Guarantee System — that is accepted and recognized by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) Family of Standards, which is accepted globally.

Established in 1972, IFOAM is the only international umbrella organization of the organic industry, according to its Web site.

The IFOAM Action Network comprises self-organized IFOAM regional and sector groups and daughter organizations. To date, IFOAM represents close to 800 affiliates in 117 countries all over the world.

The 25-year old MASIPAG Farmers’ Guarantee System is an umbrella organization of people’s organizations, nongovernment organizations and scientists.

These groups and individuals are known for their pioneering work in the country’s organic agriculture movement.

The Department of Agriculture (DA), through Administrative Order No. 08 Series of 2013, has given organic farmers up to April 1, 2016, to voluntarily comply with the Third Party Certification requirement for organic products in the Philippines.

The group has also brought their position before the National Organic Agriculture Board.

However, it was told by DA Underecretary Bernadette R. Puyat that while the government recognizes the importance of the PGS, it could not officially recognize the system as valid until the law is amended.

The proposed amendment to the law has been submitted by Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Teodoro “Teddy” A. Casiño.

“But you know how difficult it is to amend the law here in the Philippines especially now that there are other more important things for the lawmakers to attend to,” said Dr. Chito P. Medina, MASIPAG National Coordinator, during a national conference on PGS held in the city last week.

LOCAL LEVEL

In the meantime, MASIPAG has taken another route for PGS recognition in the country at the local government level. The latest local government unit (LGU) to have adopted the PGS as a certification for organic products is Davao City, which officially launched the Davao City PGS last week.

“We have adopted the PGS as the certification system of Davao City organic products because we believe this will better serve our local and small-scale farmers,” Davao City Agriculture Officer Rocelio Tabay told BusinessWorld.

Mr. Tabay said the city government is now setting up a group tasked to evaluate and certify under the PGS.

“But Davao City is still a beginner when it comes to PGS so what we do now is identify group or groups in the community to guarantee that the products are organic,” Mr. Tabay said.

Organic products from Davao City and neighboring municipalities include different varieties of rice, fruits and vegetables, and herbal teas and medicines. — Carmencita A. Carillo

 

Source: BusinessWorld Online

Getting ‘organic’ certification too slow and expensive, say farmers

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 13 Aug) – Farmers’ groups and advocates of organic agriculture here said the practice of certifying products as “organic,” institutionalized by Republic Act 10068, is “too slow” and “inaccessible.”

Speaking at a press conference at the Ateneo de Davao University Finster Hall Tuesday, Chito Medina, national coordinator of the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG), said the certification practice has only gathered less than one percent of farmers’ produce three years since the law’s implementation.

The law, Medina said, aims to reach five percent of the country’s 9.57 million hectares of agricultural lands.

The problem? Certification costs P150,000, Medina pointed out.

He said farmers would rather go for an alternative and affordable guarantee system called the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), which the group launched the same day.

The MASIPAG officer said some local governments have already practiced the farming certification, which has cost farmers a small fraction of the recommended third-party certification system proposed by the law.

“Certification costs only P700 in Zamboanga and P1,000 in Quezon province,” Medina said, citing a few examples of existing PGS practices.

Medina called the PGS as a more affordable poverty alleviation solution for farmers who cultivate organic agricultural products.

Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr., of Maribojoc town in Bohol, said in an interview that their municipality was already practicing the certification even before an intensity 7.2 earthquake hit parts of Bohol and Cebu last year.

“Organic agriculture is sustainable,” he stressed.

Evasco added the local government made the farming practice easily accessible to farmers, with the LGU providing trainings and tools funded with counterpart from national government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture.

Medina said the PGS “recognized the people on the ground” and added that they were lobbying for a direct revision of the organic agriculture act. “This is the way forward to expanding organic agriculture,” he said.

The City Agriculturist’s Office, MASIPAG said in a statement, was supporting the implementation of the practice. It added that “the PGS is an alternative product certification system more beneficial and appropriate to local and smallholder organic production.”

“We have adapted the PGS as the certification system of Davao City organic products because we believe this will better serve our local and small-scale farmers,” city agriculturist Rocelio Tabay said in a statement.

“The City, with the help of the civil society and farmers organizations, has put in place our own PGS which helps strengthen our organic agriculture program,” Tabay added.

“Having a PGS as a certification system will also ultimately help our ordinary consumers to enjoy safe and healthy organic products,” Anita Morales, chairperson of the Davao City PGS and executive director of the development organization METSA foundation, said in a statement.

“PGS is an inexpensive certification system so farmers and small-scale producers would not have to add too much cost to their organic products,” she added

Product certification is an assurance among the consumers that the organic product has passed the standards on organic agriculture. Certified products usually have a seal or logo from the certifying body.

According to MASIPAG, a two-year leeway has been granted for those that are using first- and second-party certification such as the PGS.

Unlike the third-party certification system, where a government-accredited body is paid for its services to inspect and certify the farmers’ produce, the PGS is done with a multi-sectoral inspection team composed of farmers, consumers and different sectors from the community.

The PGS team can even be a trained team of farmer-inspectors who goes to other communities and farmers’ organizations to inspect, monitor and certify the organic production system. Only minimal fees are given to the PGS team, MASIPAG said.

“In a second-party certification system like the PGS, we are well-represented in the committee and our opinions and knowledge are recognized,” said Jose Ben Travilla, an organic farmer and PGS inspector from Mlang, North Cotabato. “Hence, PGS is more appropriate to our conditions, culture and capacities.”

“Because of the PGS’s participatory and empowering nature, and its emphasis on community-centered marketing, the ordinary consumers have a direct line to the producers so they are able to afford certified organic products,” Travilla said.

MASIPAG’s own PGS, the MASIPAG Farmer’s Guarantee System (MFGS), has been in practice since 2004, and has since been assisting other organizations and LGUs in adapting PGS in their organic agriculture programs.

“Majority of our farmers and producers are resource-poor but with sustainable organic farming, they are able to achieve food security at the household and community level,” said Medina.

 

Source: MindaNews

LGUs express support for farmer-led certification

PGS Conference successfully conducted

 

Davao City – MASIPAG recently held its third conference on Participatory Guarantee System titled “Participatory Guarantee Systems: Building a Future for Organic Farmers and Consumers in the Philippines” which aimed to further expand the practice and implementation of PGS in the country. The conference, attended by more than 140 representatives from farmers’ groups, local government units (LGUs) and non-government organizations (NGOs), also served to launch the Davao City PGS, a coalition supporting the practice and implementation of participatory guarantee system (PGS).

The PGS is an alternative product certification system more beneficial and appropriate to local and smallholder organic production. MASIPAG has been lobbying for the recognition of PGS, since the current law, the Republic Act 10068 or the Organic Agriculture Act only recognizes the third-party certification system in which the certifying bodies require a hefty fee that smallholder farmers and producers can barely afford. However, a two-year leeway has been granted for those that are using first- and second-party certification such as the PGS.

Representatives from LGUs who have successfully installed and are actively implementing PGS shared their experience among the participants, which include 32 LGUs officials including municipal mayors, municipal and provincial agricultural officers and organic agriculture focal persons. The inputs served to inspire these LGUs to likewise take up PGS in their localities to further support their organic farmers.

Farmers, LGUs and NGOs gathered to strengthen the call for support for PGS.

Farmers, LGUs and NGOs gathered to strengthen the call for support for PGS.

“The LGUs play an important role in seeking for farmer-friendly solutions and approaches so we can ensure the development of our organic agriculture,” said Mayor Leovegildo Ruzol of General Nakar, in Quezon province. Mayor Ruzol, who is also the Executive Vice-President of the League of Organic Agriculture Municipalities (LOAM), stated that the LOAM supports the call of MASIPAG to recognize PGS.

“There is a need to push for organic agriculture because it is good for the health of the people,” said Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr.of Maribojoc, Bohol. “And if there are effective people who could certify organic products, they are the growers and practitioners themselves.”

A workshop was also held during the conference to further discuss various strategies to mainstream PGS among farmers’ groups, LGUs, NGOs and academe. Participants later on signed a unity statement which declares their support in calling the government to recognize PGS and a genuinely farmer-led organic agriculture. The conference statement will then be submitted to the National Organic Agriculture Board (NOAB) and the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Organic Food Fair

The second day of the PGS Conference took place in the SM Ecoland Grounds, where various organic products were displayed and sold. Organic products from Davao City farmers and other neighboring municipalities were marketed, including organic colored rice, fresh fruits and vegetables, and processed organic herbal teas and medicines. These products are all certified organic through PGS.

Health advocates join the Green Ride during the Organic Food and Product Fair.

Health advocates join the Green Ride during the Organic Food and Product Fair.

The Fair took off with a Green Ride, a one-hour fun ride around Davao City participated by youths and professionals advocating healthy lifestyle. Cultural groups welcomed visitors with a lively traditional music which formally opened the program. The Davao City PGS was likewise launched during the program.

Davao City PGS is launched during the Organic Food and Product Fair.

Davao City PGS is launched during the Organic Food and Product Fair.

One of the highlights of the organic food and product fair was the organic salad challenge called “Farm to Fork.” Culinary and hotel restaurant management students from four universities in Davao City participated in creating special dishes from fresh organic products that they bought from the fair. Students from the Assumption School of Davao bagged the first place with their creamy durian salad. Women-farmers likewise joined the contest with their sumptuous fresh green salads with various herbs and vegetables.

Salad Challenge

Assumption School of Davao won the Organic Salad Challenge with their mouthwatering Creamy Durian Salad.

The PGS Conference was co-organized by PGS Pilipinas (an alliance of PGS practitioners and advocates), Davao City PGS, Ateneo de Davao University School of Business and Governance and the Ateneo de Davao University Young Entrepreneurs Society.#

Women farmers of KNBL in Davao City proudly show off their organic and natural products.

Women farmers of KNBL in Davao City proudly show off their organic and natural products.

Asian Farmers Unite to Stop Golden Rice

Asian farmers and leaders displayed the various natural sources of Vitamin A.

Asian farmers and leaders displayed the various natural sources of Vitamin A.

Quezon City, Philippines – Citing impending commercialization of Golden Rice, farmers and sectoral organizations here and abroad have united to stop the commercialization of the said GM crop, saying that this will decimate indigenous rice genetic diversity, and affect farmers’ rights, people’s health and the environment. In a conference that tackled Golden Rice, farmer-scientist group MASIPAG with regional networks including the Asian Peasant Coalition, Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific (PAN-AP), GRAIN, Third World Network (TWN) and a host of national organizations also called on governments to immediately halt all planned field testing and feed tests of Golden Rice among the vulnerable population across Asia.

Golden Rice, a transgenic rice containing beta carotene is being heralded as the solution to Vitamin A deficiency (VAD). At present, it has completed the multi-location field trials in the Philippines and is now in the process of collating the data for regulatory approval. After the regulatory approval, feed testing on the people will commence. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) of the Department of Agriculture are the proponents of the said project. Both institutions work to commercialize Golden Rice by 2016 or earlier. Apart from the Philippines, Golden Rice is also being field tested in contained areas in Indonesia and Bangladesh.

Farmers say NO to Golden Rice

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Farmer groups and sectoral organizations, however call for the prohibition of the commercialization, citing issues on rice genetic diversity loss, farmer rights, environmental effects and health impacts. “Our rights for deciding on the kind of seeds that we use, and the way we use them, are being threatened by the genetic modification of rice, our staple food here in Asia. The International Rice Research Institute, along with Syngenta, one of the world’s biggest agrochemical companies, has experimented on rice because they claim that they wanted to help the poor and malnourished children of the developing countries. They say Golden Rice is free, but Syngenta in fact owns the patents to the GM Rice. With these patents, they will be able to force farmers to pay them for planting this rice” said Diego dela Cruz Jr, a farmer and rice breeder of MASIPAG based in Agusan del Sur, Mindanao. On Earth Day, he and thousands of organic farmers in Mindanao have signed a petition urging DA Secretary Proceso Alcala to stop commercialization of Golden Rice.

Farmers from India also share the same sentiment. “Farmers in India who planted Bt cotton have suffered. They have become more indebted, in many cases leading to suicides, because of the rising cost of inputs associated with GM cotton. Pest resistance to Bt cotton has developed and farmers cannot find non-GM cotton seeds in the market. As of now, about 96% of all cotton is Bt, of which 90% is owned by Monsanto. We fear that with Golden Rice, rice farmers will face similar consequences” said Sreedevi Lakshmi Kutty of Save Our Rice Campaign India.

Similarly, farmers in Indonesia see Golden Rice as a tool for increased control of food production by transnational agribusiness. “Golden Rice is a part of a grand plan to further strengthen the control of agrochemical TNCs on food and agriculture. The United States has a big influence in the push for Golden Rice, specifically the involvement and funding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and USAID. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation alone placed $20M to IRRI for the field testing and commercialization of Golden Rice. The foundation, on the other hand, owns $24M worth of stocks in Monsanto, also one to the biggest Agrochem TNC in the world. This puts the intent of the funders, of Golden Rice as a ‘gift to the poor’ in question” said Budianto of Aiansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (AGRA), Indonesia. He also represents the Asian Peasants Coalition.

Sarojeni Rengam of the PAN-AP, said that the agrochemical TNCs who have been promoting deadly pesticides, are also the same companies that are pushing for the development of GMOs and Golden Rice. “The BIG 6, comprised by Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, Du Pont and BASF are controlling the global sale of proprietary seeds in the market. They have been supporting the promotion of GMOs. Once Golden Rice gets approved, this will also solidify the corporate ownership on seed patent. IRRI, on the other hand, is now the conduit of agrochemical TNCs, to pursue their commercial interests on the rice industry. It is not true that Golden Rice is to be used for humanitarian grounds” added Rengam.

Golden Rice is risky for health and environment

Currently, there is still lack of studies that will ensure safety of Golden Rice to health and environment. On the other hand, there exists a body of scientific literature to indicate unforeseen and unpredictable, irreversible harms to agroecosystems and human health. While there were feeding trials done among school-age children in China, these generated public anxiety about the long term potential harm to the children’s health and controversy over research ethics and biosafety rules.

Dr Debal Deb, rice conservationist and scientist in India, added that the transgenes from the GM rice are almost certain to cause genetic pollution of local rice varieties through cross pollination, with unknown ecological effects. “Errors in expression of the alien gene, especially overexpression of the gene and co-suppression of several native genes, production of hitherto unknown proteins, and unpredictable combinations of various gene products are common phenomena in GM plants, and likely to show up in Golden Rice as well. Uncertainties at the cellular and molecular level entail uncertainties in their effects on the rice ecosystem and the health of human consumers. In particular, likely production of retinoic acid and its derivatives would affect many biochemical pathways involved in embryonic development. In addition, in the event of overexpression of the beta carotene gene, people may consume excessive vitamin A, causing vitaminosis A and teratogenesis.”

Dr. Gene Nisperos of Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) and Dr. Deb also mentioned that availability and access to vitamin A alone cannot solve the problem of VAD. Vitamin assimilation requires adequate amount of zinc and fats in the food, and absence of water-borne enteric diseases. Thus, solving the VAD requires a holistic public health approach, instead of a magic bullet from costly technology.

Bert Autor, spokesperson of SIKWAL-GMO, an alliance of farmers and organizations against GMOs in Bicol, said that the open field testing of Golden Rice puts the health of people at risk. On August 8, 2013, more than 400 farmers and sectoral organizations stormed the gates of the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Unit 5 in Pili, Camarines Sur and uprooted the Golden Rice plants inside the 800 sqm field area. “We want to protect our rights against the contamination of our rice varieties, the health of our people and the environment. It is the plan of IRRI to contaminate our rice with the privately owned Golden Rice, making us subservient to the interests of huge corporations. The truths are, there are lots existing solutions to fight Vitamin A Deficiency. There are food sources rich in Vitamin A and are readily available. Also why not focus on giving land to the landless farmers? A lot of farmers cannot participate in increasing food security of the country as most of them do not own the land they till. We do not need Golden Rice, it is but a distraction to attaining food security and agricultural development” said Autor.

Farmers from all over the Philippines trooped to the Department of Agriculture to express their opposition to Golden Rice.

Farmers from all over the Philippines trooped to the Department of Agriculture to express their opposition to Golden Rice.

Dr. Chito Medina of the farmer-scientist group MASIPAG said that “the threat to control rice and agriculture is very real. Therefore, it is just for farmers to take action to stop the commercialization of Golden Rice. Farmers have much to lose once Golden Rice contaminates their fields. IRRI, the Agrochemical TNCs and Philrice should be held accountable to the people for deliberately exposing the people to harm, privatizing the seeds and contaminating the rice fields and environment. We should all unite to stop the commercialization of Golden Rice.”

Local farmer groups from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao numbering to 200 individuals converged and went to the gates of the Department of Agriculture to call on Secretary Proceso Alcala to disapprove the application for Golden Rice commercialization. They also brought and ate kamote (sweet potato) which contains five times more beta carotene than Golden Rice to show the DA that there are readily available, cheap and natural sources of Vitamin A.