The newly signed law aimed at strengthening organic agriculture in the country is seen to boost Negrense organic farmers as this will enable them to position and sell more products in the market.

The law signed by President Rodrigo Duterte recently has amended Republic Act No. 10068, or the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010, to make certification of organic produce by farmers and fishermen more accessible and affordable.

Republic Act 11511 establishes a Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), which refers to a locally focused quality assurance system that is developed and practiced by people engaged in organic agriculture.

Negrense organic farmer and advocate Jet Orbida, who currently sits as one of the directors of the National Organic Agriculture Board (NOAB) representing small farmers in the Visayas, said the new law is a very encouraging development particularly for the small farmers and environmental advocates.

Orbida said Negros Occidental farmers have been practicing organic farming decades ago, but a lot of small farmers switched back to conventional farming because of the organic certification issue.

“The Participatory Guarantee System was already introduced in our province years ago. I believe the Regional Field Office Organic Division already has plans of reactivating the efforts of consolidating small farmers organizations for PGS,” he said, adding that with the new law they “are expecting that there will be more Negros organic products in the local market.”

Earlier, Orbida said the PGS will enable them, small farmers, to certify their produce as organically grown in line with Agriculture Secretary William Dar’s challenge for organic farming to be sustainable particularly for the small farmers.

He said the certification has been a major hindrance. Some farmers are moving back from going organic because their products cannot be labeled as organic.

"Farmers have to spend P100,000 to P130,000 per product for organic certification," Orbida stressed.

The new law seeks to certify producers and farmers as actual and active practitioners of organic agriculture.

Also, it creates the National Organic Agriculture Program-National Program Coordinating Office (NOAP-NPCO) to manage the effective implementation of the National Organic Agriculture Program.

It will be in charge of the planning and administrative secretariat of the NOAB and as the coordinating office of the program.

The law also restructures, strengthens and empowers the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards (BAFS), which will provide technical assistance to the NOAB and the NOAP-NPCO.

The BAFS will also be tasked to formulate and update standards relevant to organic agriculture; issue accreditation to organic certifying bodies; conduct inspections on compliance of PGS groups with the Philippine National Standards for organic agriculture and publish at least once a year the list of compliant PGS groups.

It will also issue a registration of organic inputs, such as organic soil amendments and organic bio-control agents; issue registration of integrated organic farms with multiple commodities/production and of organic input producers among other functions, duties, and responsibilities.

For Provincial Agriculturist Japhet Masculino, this is a welcomed development as the new measure had amended the previous law that allowed sky-high cost of accreditation for organic farmers.

Though the specifics of the PGS have yet to be laid down in the implementing rules and regulations, Masculino said it is certainly a cheaper alternative to the present system.

Known as the leader of organic agriculture in the country, Negros Occidental currently has at least 17,000 organic farming practitioners with about 16,000-hectare farms of various organic crops. (With reports from PNA)