VERY few provinces can truly claim they are organic. In fact, I have only heard of Negros Occidental as being true practitioners of organic agriculture. And I saw for myself the members of Organic Producers and Retailers Association (Onopra) who intently listened to the speakers at their recent 9th General Assembly. They were all there—coffee farmers, vegetable farmers and community leaders who influence Negros Occidental’s organic program.
But as with all producers, they need access to more markets. They become good producers, increasing in volume year on year, and the market must be not just in Negros but in other places, too. We have offered them markets in our ECHOstore branches in the Visayas and even Luzon and Mindanao. All are excited at the prospect of selling outside Negros. After all, why should only Negros be the beneficiaries of such abundant organic and healthy produce?
How can a whole province drive such a successful organic campaign?
1. Political will. I think the provincial government has taken the bull by the horns. The manufacturers of chemical fertilizers are banned from selling their harmful products in Negros Occidental.
2. Enablers. There are trainors and actors in the production chain who teach the farmers how to make their own organic fertilizer. One of them is Ramon Uy Jr. or Chin Chin to friends. Chin and wife Francine run Fresh Start—a model company that teaches farmers how to make vermin compost and finally also buy their produce for retail in supermarkets.
3. Processors. The food processing segment introduce new ways of adding value to fresh produce. We found lagundi syrups, rice and malunggay porridge, even artisanal piaya, Bacolod’s favorite pasalubong—a sweet treat made with whole wheat flour and muscovado sugar.
4. Restaurants. We were lucky to visit May’s Organic Garden and Restaurant that serves only organic meals and sells organic coffee, muscovado sugar and organic rice.
5. Enlightened consumers. The people of Bacolod and nearby towns are all aware about the ordinance banning chemicals. So consumers know they will get only the best vegetables and other food products, grown organically.
They have groups like Onopra who incessantly fight for better quality and healthier choices. In fact, even if it is expensive to “clean” a previously chemically-fertilized land, Negrenses like Jeannie Javelosa are thinking of switching their land to organic agriculture. Baby steps, even if it may cost around P303,000 to clean a hectare of land, to make it ready for organic farming.
Why do farmers switch? Because they have seen success stories. They also know that organic agriculture is better for their health and for their pockets, too. In the end, consumers pay a premium for organic vegetables, even organic coffee and organic rice.
All it takes is political will to change and avoid shortcuts of higher yields as higher yields may mean chemical-laden produce you would not even eat. An average yield is way better because you and your family can eat your produce, and just share your excess with the markets you supply. After all, what are we in business for but to have food on the table?
Negros Occidental is an organic “country,” thanks to its local government and its resolute leadership. For the government to enact an ordinance banning chemicals, for the local producers to be enabled to produce healthier food is something government and private sector can actually do. Put healthier food on each farmer’s table. Then food security will never be an issue.
I remember my father again—lending me a book by E.F. Schumacher—“ Small is beautiful.” Not everything must be big, in volumes or high yields.
Small is beautiful. Negros, you have it all figured out. Be organic. Feed your farmers. And feed them well.
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium, Centris QC mall, Davao and Cebu City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates and NGOs on sustainability, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org