Farmer-Scientist Group Call for Safe Food and Organic Agriculture Support
October 16 – Smallholder farmers from various provinces in the country will be commemorating World Food Day by expressing their rejection of genetically modified food while drawing attention to the valuable impact of organic agriculture. Members of the farmer-scientist group MASIPAG will be holding a wide range of activities from Luzon to Mindanao including mass actions, public forum, media conferences and organic food and products display, among others.
“This year’s World Food Day theme is about family farming, and their significant role in achieving food security, sustainable livelihoods and rural development,” said Cris Panerio, regional coordinator for MASIPAG-Luzon. “Yet, our very own small-scale farmers continue to face threats from genetically modified organisms such as the GM corn and Golden Rice.”
MASIPAG is a 29-year old network of farmers, scientists and non-government organizations pushing for farmer-led sustainable agriculture and farmer empowerment. Member farmers of MASIPAG have achieved varying degrees of success in organic agriculture where members have been able to improve farm production through the combination of using locally adapted rice varieties, farm diversification and advocacy for better community legislations and programs.
“Through sustainable agriculture and organic farming, not only were we able to improve our farm production, but it also helped us farmers become an important part of community development,” said Carlito Seguiro, MASIPAG Chairman and a farmer from Negros Occidental. “We are able to assert our inherent rights against technologies and projects that could harm our farm, our health and our livelihood.”
MASIPAG has also figured in the campaign against Golden Rice, a genetically modified rice that will supposedly address Vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. Golden Rice has been field tested in the Philippines in anticipation of its eventual commercialization. After the intense opposition from various farmers and consumers groups, including the uprooting of the clandestine field trial in Camarines Sur, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) postponed the commercialization, citing the failure of Golden Rice to produce better yields.
“Genetically modified crops such as the Golden Rice are direct threats to sustainable agriculture,” said Mamerto Pado, Chairman of MASIPAG in Camarines Sur. “GM crops can potentially harm our environment, from which poor farmers are dependent for natural resources; and GM foods can harm our health.”
No benefits from GMOs
GMOs are considered by many experts as potentially harmful due to the possible unintended effects that could occur. Incidences of GM crops contaminating non-GM crops have been documented in several countries, including the United States and Canada. Scientific studies on the health impacts of GM crops have also been conducted showing alarming effects among laboratory animals. These studies have been largely ignored and discredited by GM transnational companies.
“GMOs are a technological fix that is meant to address complicated problems with just a single solution,” said Dr. Chito Medina, MASIPAG National Coordinator. “Consider the Golden Rice – it is only meant to address Vitamin A Deficiency when in fact, the problem on malnutrition involves other nutrients as well, which is caused by the lack of access to safe and sufficient food.”
Speaking from the ongoing Organic World Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, Dr. Medina claimed that only the giant agrochemical companies benefit from the profits of GMO seeds and chemical inputs, while leaving the smallholder and family farmers poorer and hungrier.
“It is not enough to celebrate the essential role of smallholder farmers during World Food Day,” said Dr. Medina. “What is more urgent and important is to address the threats to their food security.”
Filipino farmers against GMOs
In Luzon, farmers from Camarines Sur, Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan and Quezon will be putting up “GMO-Free” signboards in their organic farms, to encourage farmers and communities to protect their rice and other crops from the expansion of GMOs. Farmers also encourage communities to call for ban GM crops and products in their food and agricultural farms.
In Iloilo City, a trade fair of organic products will be conducted to showcase the food diversity of Ilonggos that are sure sources of vitamins and minerals.
Simultaneous mass mobilizations in different rice-growing areas in Mindanao are slated to call on the Department of Agriculture not to allow the commercialization of golden rice. Other activities in four municipalities in Mindanao include forum on golden rice and organic agriculture, organic food and products fair, press conference, concert, cultural presentations (reading of poems on organic agriculture composed by farmers), t-shirts printing, dissemination of campaign materials, sharing of farmers’ practices and innovations, boodle fight, and opening of organic trading post.
“We decided to conduct these activities on the occasion of the world food day celebration because we want to generate a strong public opposition against golden rice which we believe is a poison disguised as food,” said Diego Dela Cruz, chairman of the advocacy committee of MASIPAG. “We are also maximizing this popular global event to popularize further organic agriculture, the future of food,” he added. ###
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.#