A GROWING number of farmers are shifting from conventional to pesticide-free farming after finding a lucrative alternative livelihood thru the Benguet State University (BSU) Internal Guarantee System (BIGS) Center.

Established in 2009, BIGS Center served as a marketing outlet for chemical-free vegetables produced by BSU and its farmer-tenants. The center eventually evolved to include naturally grown products of farmers from other towns of Benguet and Mt. Province who later formed the Timpuyog dagiti Umanamong iti BIGS (TUBIGS).

Before joining the organization, farmers undergo a week-long comprehensive qualifying course on organic agriculture principles and practices to equip them with necessary knowledge and skills in practicing organic farming. After the qualifying course, trainees whose farms have been inspected and deemed qualified for chemical-free production will become a member of the BIGS farmers’ organization. They will then be eligible to sell their produce at the BIGS Center at a competitive price.

Most of the members were longtime conventional farmers who shifted to pesticide-free farming. Ermo Pistola, a former conventional grower from Nawal, Bokod, Benguet, has abandoned his decades-old practice and began producing vegetables the natural way after joining TUBIGS in 2014. He pioneered the practice in their barangay, eventually inspiring and convincing fellow farmers to follow in his footstep through his apparent success. They are now full-time natural practitioners, supporting their families through their weekly income from the BIGS Center.

Farmer-members of the organization adhere to and are guided by the BIGS standard, a binding mechanism establishing the Standards, Policies and Guidelines (SPG) for organic farming in BSU. Eventually, it was expanded to monitor and guarantee cropping systems and/or practices in the organic production of strawberry, semi-temperate vegetables, and Arabica coffee in the service areas of the University. These standards were based on the Philippine National Standards for Organic Agriculture and Processing (PNSOAP) and were adjusted to suit the agro-ecological production systems in the Cordillera.

The BSU-Office of Extension Services, which co-manages the operation of the BIGS Center along with the TUBIGS’ board members, is continuously working toward strengthening the organization. Capacity-building activities are regularly conducted to improve the farming practices of the farmers. Strict monitoring is also implemented to ensure that the farmers are adhering to the set standards and to guarantee the quality of the products.

At present, more than 120 TUBIGS members are actively producing and supplying a variety of naturally grown crops to the BIGS Center. They come from almost all municipalities of Benguet and from Sabangan and Bauko in Mountain Province.

On the other hand, the center’s customers have also grown through the years and have expanded beyond Benguet and the region. The center caters to walk-in customers at its outlet at the BSU Marketing Center in La Trinidad, Benguet. Bulk orders from other areas such as Baguio City and parts of Metro Manila are also accepted.

The program is part of BSU’s seven-point extension agenda on providing holistic entrepreneurship and livelihood support to its clienteles. It is also in support to the university’s advocacy in promoting safe and healthy food thru organic agriculture which officially began in 2004 when then President Rogelio Colting declared BSU as a pro-organic university.