Organic agriculture guided by inclusive agribusiness

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DR. WILLIAM DAR

First of two parts

While I have taken the position that organic agriculture cannot feed the world, it still makes a very good business proposition for the youth who want to take up farming as a vocation and business undertaking. Also, organic farming can supplement food production in urban areas by utilizing more efficiently whatever vacant spaces are available in the cities.

Organic farming can also provide the opportunity for agripreneurs to earn more compared to conventional farming if they employ the right technologies and techniques to grow food without chemicals. And since the youth are more receptive to technology, especially the latest ones, organic farming as an agribusiness undertaking should be promoted among the younger generation.

I am not saying that older farmers should be viewed as not being interested or even receptive to shifting to organic farming; it’s just that the youth are more receptive to modern technologies that can be applied in organic farming.


However, there are many factors that discourage people from going into organic farming: costly and cumbersome process of organic certification; slow conversion from conventional farming to organic system; marketing problems; unorganized organic producers; lack of government support for export of organic products; low competencies in organic production; limited knowledge on national regulations; and limited skills on internal quality control systems.

How do you address those concerns? Let me discuss the answers in the second part of this column-series, and let me first discuss options on how to farm organically and in a modern way.

Urban and precision ariculture

Urban agriculture can be integrated into the urban economic and ecological system, and encourages farmers to grow crops in an even more controlled and conscious manner, which leads to more possibilities to grow organic food.

One popular way to grow food in cities is through vertical farming, which is the practice of producing food in vertically stacked layers in a skyscraper, unused warehouse, or shipping containers. This approach saves space, and can increase year-round crop production also with protection from weather-related problems.

Vertical farming also allows the adoption of water conservation and recycling, making it a sustainable system.

On the other hand, protected agriculture, which should also be considered for organic farming, is the cultivation of high-value vegetables and other horticultural crops in greenhouses. This system allows farmers to grow cash crops through the modification of the natural environment to achieve optimal growth.

Usually, a 10- to 12-percent increase in yield is achieved under protected agriculture depending upon the type of greenhouse, type of crop and environmental control facilities. Protected agriculture also expands the variety of produce and minimizes external threats to crops.

Precision Agriculture (PA) can also be applied not only in organic but also for conventional farming. PA is a farm management system that extensively uses

information technology (IT) to ensure crops and soil receive the precise amounts of inputs to attain optimum productivity while protecting the environment and assuring sustainability.

PA is also known as satellite agriculture (SA) that should result in as-needed farming and site-specific crop management. SA includes accessing real-time data about the conditions of the crops, soil and ambient air, along with other relevant information such as hyper-local weather predictions, labor costs and equipment availability.

Among the most common technologies applied in PA are geomapping, remote sensing, integrated electronic communications, high precision positioning systems, automated steering systems, variable rate technology (VRT), and machines.

Geomapping is used to produce maps that give information on soil type and nutrients levels in layers, and assign that information to a particular field location.

Sensors and remote sensing is another technology or tool under PA, which aims to collect data from a distance to evaluating soil and crop health. Data collected included moisture, nutrients, compaction and crop diseases. The data sensors used in remote sensing can be mounted on moving machines.

Those who may not be in tuned with latest trends in PA will surely appreciate the application of integrated electronic communications between components in a system, for example: between tractor and farm office; tractor and dealer; or spray can and sprayer.

High precision positioning systems (like GPS) also has wide applications in PA, because they can provide navigation and positioning capability anywhere on Earth, and anytime under all conditions.
Automated steering systems allows field machinery to perform

specific tasks like auto-steering, overhead turning, following field edges and avoid overlapping of rows, which significantly reduces human error.

VRT, on the other hand, is applying parameters on a farm machine to apply inputs (like seed or fertilizer), according to the variations established from soil type and nutrients, to achieve optimum plant growth.

I have overemphasized in many of my columns the need to mechanize farms in the Philippines, so the various phases of cropping from soil preparation, sowing of seeds, application of inputs, harvesting and even storing will be made more efficient, resulting in increased income for farmers over the long term.

Also worth mentioning as a possible PA system is AGREA, which combines the terms agriculture and Gaea, which is the Greek term for Mother Earth. There is already an AGREA-based movement in Marinduque led by Cherrie Atilano that has been mobilizing communities, businesses, the academic community, local government units, national government agencies, international partners and individuals to preach and bring about an “Ecology of Dignity” to farming and fishing communities in the province.

Closing the generational gap

The country’s agriculture sector cannot describe today as modernized or even industrialized, and the adoption of technology by the youth who venture into organic or conventional farming can help “close the generational gap” in agriculture, or help introduce more technologies to existing farmers and even motivate the old and new generation of farmers to stay on the farm.

Since the younger generations were born and raised surrounded by technology, it is second nature to them to use smartphones, software programs, and other devices that are now globally used. And as we slowly digitize agriculture, with good IT infrastructure and good connectivity, more breakthrough technologies in precision agriculture platforms and decision-making tools can help retain the current and new generation of farmers, and attract more young people to the field of agriculture.

And as more technologies get into the hands of current and new farmers, including those from the ranks of the youth, the option to go into organic farming becomes more attractive.

In my next column, I will discuss policies and programs needed to attract the youth into organic farming.

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