Saturday July 21, 2018

Yes, they have bananas!

IT WAS a long and occasionally bumpy trip to Barangay Tison in Victorias City that made me realize the big debt we owe our farmers.

I cannot imagine a world without them – these hardworking, skilled tillers of the soil who deal with temperamental seasons, annoying pests and the effects of global warming. It is from their hands that our sustenance comes from and, ironically, agriculture is one of the most exploited and underpaying industries of the nation.

The unglamorous side of farming also deters youngsters from pursuing it as a career or vocation. Yet, considering that everyone needs to eat, and eat healthily, organic farmers ideally should expect a substantial income from their crops.

It is through socially-conscious companies and individuals that the plight of the agricultural sector can be positively addressed. Acting as a conduit between producer and consumer, Altertrade Philippines Inc. (ATPI) gives credence to the term “Fair Trade.”

Fair trade is a global movement that “empowers marginalized producers.” It gives consumers quality products. “It promotes traceability, transparency, and dialogue between stakeholders.”

Altertrade’s site visits and inspections all are proofs of the company’s commitment to Sustainable-Organic Farming (SA-OF) and Fair Trade (FT) that meet international standards.

The trip to Tison is just one of many the company makes to connect farmers with the consumers. The 15-kilometer road trip from Victorias City proper trip to Tison was organized by Altertrade in order to show to their TheBOX subscribers, and the members of Moms Across Philippines–Negros how the suppliers of their balangon banana effectively manage their banana farms.

Tison is one of the balangon-growing areas of Altertrade that supply the Japanese market. Balangon, a green banana that is also known as wild Cavendish, grows in the mountains in abundance. This variety is indigenous to the Philippines and smallholder farmers have financially benefited from its cultivation. Also grown are senorita and tordan varieties patronized by the domestic buyers.

The BOX or Bio-Organic eXchange is a system that distributes “real food.” Launched in Bacolod in 2013, TheBOX is meant to: “serve healthy, naturally, and organically-grown foods to its intended subscribers; provide stable markets to smallholder producers for a wide range of diversified products; establish a connection between producers and consumers in Bacolod.”

The subscribers of TheBOX are happy; the farmers are happier for this system assures them a market for their bananas, and a regular weekly income. The farmers have formed a cooperative with initially 15 members and started with nine carabaos and one hectare of farmland planted to over 7,000 banana trees. This was in October, 2009.

Now, the cooperative has 39 members, and other products have been explored. “Organic” is the word in Tison from organic vegetables to raising native chickens to raising pigs in pens lined with rice hull that will eventually turn into fertilizer.

Altertrade sees to it that the farmers are given the motivation and a guiding hand in nurturing their farms. In its agenda is ATPI’s education on the various ways to utilize easily available materials to create organic foliar fertilizer. Since fertilizer is a foundation of successful farming, ATPI makes sure the cooperative members have practical knowledge of this together with herbal preparations for pest control.

Happy farmers translate into good food. Nevertheless, good food also means a continuous supply from our farms where the farmers’ importance is valued by society.