Editorial: Championing organic

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Sunday, August 31, 2014


IN MANTALONGON, the Dalaguete barangay that is Cebu’s vegetable capital, college students on a field trip sat down for lunch. After plates of stewed cabbage were placed on the table, a student joked that she never saw “more perfect,” blemish-free leaves.

An agricultural specialist acting as their guide commented that it is better to dine on cabbage with a worm or two. It’s a sign that the vegetable wasn’t bombarded with chemical pesticides, which are harmful to animals (pest- or non-pest) and humans.

In the 1990s, outside the houses of vegetable farmers in Mantalongon, there was the inevitable drum or two where chemicals were mixed for spraying. For farmers, the pesticides guaranteed them a good living. For agriculture specialists, the pesticides compromised the health of local families and end consumers, as well as the productivity and sustainability of ecology.

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“Many of these farmers are silent millionaires,” commented one agriculturist then. “Unfortunately, very few live long enough to enjoy their wealth.”

Resistance

More than a decade later, despite the strides made to develop and promote biological methods to control agricultural pests and the willingness of a more health-conscious market to buy more expensive organic produce, farmers are still slow to apply more ecologically sound innovations, such as integrated pest management (IPM).

Last Aug. 27-28, Sun.Star Cebu published “Bug slay, nature’s way” by Cherry Ann T. Lim to trace the resistance of farmers and local government units (LGUs) in adjusting traditional but unsound agricultural practices that compromise public health and ecological sustainability.

“Farm drills and parasites,” the first part of the special report published on Aug. 27, focused on the Regional Crop Protection Center (RCPC) of the Department of Agriculture (DA)’s campaign to promote IPM, which departs from synthetic pesticides and relies on field sanitation and the natural enemies of pests to control infestation.

Even as the RCPC mass-produces parasitoids for free distribution to farmers, the DA encourages LGUs to put up their own laboratories to eliminate transport problems from DA labs to the communities. Lack of local expertise is compounded by changes in leadership, bureaucratic delays, and limited local funds.

Old habits die hard, too. Many farmers resist the IPM approach of sanitation (clearing away of infected plants) and synchronous planting to deprive pests of food. Majority prefer quick-acting, low-cost solutions offered by chemical pesticides. They meet market demands even if it means selling produce they have just sprayed the day before with pesticides, with some poisons remaining on the plants for a month.

Enforcement

Tough enforcement will enforce bio-control methods if farmer acceptance continues to fall behind expectations.

Yet, practice and advocacy among farmer-innovators, who champion IPM approaches, is chipping away at decades of dependence on chemical pesticides that overshadowed the bounties of Mantalongon, Cebu’s vegetable basket whose produce reaches as far as Bohol
and Leyte.

In the second part of the special report, “Saying it with flowers and formulations,” published on Aug. 28, Lim revealed that although commercial suppliers of pesticides beat agricultural technicians in reaching farmers with their marketing strategies, other farmers are gradually shifting to organic and more sustainable ways of raising vegetables.

Planting of native varieties of corn is regaining popularity because these are more resistant to local pests. Natural enemies of pests are plants whose odor or other properties repel or distract pests from ravaging crops. Some pests can even be eaten by humans although in Cebu, there is a lot of local resistance to eating what is not culturally acceptable.

Tie-ups between LGUs and local farmers, such as the LGU-funded Cang-ibang Nucleus Farm of the Centino family; between LGUs and nongovernment organizations like that between Dalaguete’s Municipal Agriculture and Natural Resources Office (Manro) and the German Foundation Apos Our-Food; and initiatives of farmer-entrepreneurs like James Aguilar of Dalaguete demonstrate how political will and mindset are powerful for raising chemical-free vegetables through IPM technologies.

Yet, with only three percent of Dalaguete’s farms turning organic, government regulation will have to be more strictly enforced and monitored for farmers to adopt natural pest management in the long run.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 01, 2014.

Opinion

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