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October-December 2017 Issue (Vol. 19 No. 4)

by Ephraim John J. Gestupa

In 2013, the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), through its Institutional Development Division, convened for a meeting with representatives from the regions, namely: Ilocos, CALABARZON, Eastern Visayas, Zamboanga Peninsula, and SOCCSKSARGEN. It was agreed in this meeting that starting that year, BAR will be releasing funds for every region in the country to have their own Organic Agriculture (OA) Research and Development (R&D) Centers, initially with the four that was present in the meeting. These pilot sites were selected so that there will be OA hubs accessible across the three major zones in the country, Luzon (Region 1 and 4A), Visayas (Region 8), and Mindanao (Region 9 and 12).

Why the need for an OA R&D Centers?

Cited in the National Organic Agriculture Act of 2010, OA has the means to “cumulatively condition and enrich the fertility of the soil, increase farm productivity, reduce pollution and destruction of the environment, prevent the depletion of natural resources, further protect the health of farmers, consumers, and the general public, and save on imported farm inputs.”

Traditional agriculture practices, while it has so far done the work of achieving food security for Filipinos, have also been responsible for the country’s increasing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions. Plant areas that naturally absorb carbon dioxide in the air are cleared out and converted into farming areas while the soil loses its ability to store CO2 the more its being used for planting crops. As our farmers are trying to meet the demand for food, our natural resources are slowly being depleted and climate change becomes more evident.

With organic agriculture, farmers are presented with an alternative practice that helps transform the whole agricultural industry into becoming more sustainable. According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, OA “affordably captures carbon from the air and effectively stores it in the soil in high levels for long-periods, it integrates trees, hedgerows and pastures into farming systems to increase carbon capture and biodiversity, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use through an appropriate combination of organic fertilizers, cover crops and less intensive tillage.”

As the lead agency of the Department of Agriculture in charge of coordinating R&D efforts on organic agriculture, BAR set out to fund the establishment of Organic Agriculture R&D Centers in every region so that the practice can be further promoted to farmers and fisherfolk.

Promoting OA technologies and interventions

It’s a common misconception among Filipino farmers that organic agriculture is costly and labor intensive. Further aggravating this negative perception is the inadequate location-specific technologies and information on organic farming. OA centers equip regional offices facilities and support services responsive to the needs of stakeholders while simultaneously promoting OA as a tool for prolonging the productivity of farming areas.

After the meeting in 2013, BAR came up with a template floor plan for the regions to follow in building their center. These included as the basic equipment commonly used in OA R&D as well as facilities for more specific organic agriculture practices such as vermicomposting, organic livestock raising and aquaculture. Aside from R&D facilities, the centers also include office spaces, dormitories and open fields that will serve technical staff conducting OA research initiatives.

As of 2017, all regions, with the exclusion of the NCR and the Negros Region, have already completed or have ongoing projects aimed at establishing their own OA R&D Centers.

In the Cordillera region, the Organic Agriculture R&D Center features a climate-resilient multipurpose facility with a green building design. The establishment of the OA center located in Dontogan, Baguio City responds to a number of recommended strategies towards further developing the Cordillera as niches of semi-temperate organic foods and eco-tourism destinations. CAR’s OA center also showcases beekeeping and rabbit raising as viable component enterprise in organic production systems.

The OA center in the CALABARZON region is located at the Animal Research Compound of STIARC (Southern Tagalog Integrated Agricultural Research Center) in Marawoy, Lipa City. This region has potential to serve as a focal area for the production of organic vegetables, fruits, and other commodities. Its geographical proximity to Metro Manila provides its farmers and traders distinctive advantage as they are able to bring freshly harvested organic commodities at minimal cost.

STIARC, through its Animal Research Unit is maintaining facilities for vermiculture and vermicompost production. These existing facilities will be expanded and integrated with the proposed OA center. Also, aquaculture will be integrated as additional component in showcasing organic agriculture.

Located in Sual, Pangasinan is DA-ILIARC’s (Ilocos Integrated Agricultural Research Center) Integrated Satellite Station where the region’s OA center was built. The multipurpose building is part of a compound serving as an organic farm model. It features an upgraded organic fertilizer production center and an eco-park with a highly diversified ecosystem with the proper documentation of the floral and faunal communities. The OA center is also an avenue for stakeholders to learn about the sustainable production of native chicken, pigs, and ducks.

As the food basket of Mindanao, NMACLRC’s (Northern Mindanao Agricultural Crops & Livestock Research Complex) OA center provides farmers and traders with an advantage by delivering fresh harvested organic commodities at minimal cost.

With NMACLRC’s strategic location along the Cagayan de Oro-Malaybalay highway, the center has become a rigorous venue for consultations, meetings, seminarworkshops, batches of field trips and big events of national scope. This gives the research center the necessary means to deliver information and services particularly on organic agriculture- especially through research-generated technology on organic grains, vegetables and livestock. The center is also put up to strengthen NMACLRC’s position as an Organic Agri-tourism destination in the province of Bukidnon

In the last quarter of 2017, BAR was also able to inaugurate OA R&D centers at the research stations of Region 11 (Davao region) and 12 (SOCCSKSARGEN).

With OA centers established in every region, BAR has moved on to supporting state universities and colleges (SUCs) in establishing their own centers. As of now, institutional grants have already been given to Aklan State University in the Panay region as well as the Southern Luzon State University-Ayuti campus.

With OA centers being funded and established all across the country, BAR hopes to reach out to more farming communities in promoting this sustainable practice. These past few years, people have witnessed the rise of a more health-conscious consumer constantly on the lookout for organic produce. This puts the farmers in a strategic position to help preserve our natural resources as well as promote to the general public a healthier lifestyle as they continue practicing organic agriculture. ###

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