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Photo by Maria Rona Beltran / Bicol Umalohokan
By MAVIC CONDE
Bicol Umalohokan / Bulatlat.com
ALBAY, Philippines — Salvador Balbido is an organic practitioner in Santa Magdalena town in Sorsogon. He said there’s a demand for organic rice but the supply is lacking.
According to him, he sells his rice for P3,000-P3,500 ($59.81 to $69.78) per sack, and P80 ($1.59) per kilo.
“Growing pigmented rice is really helpful for me. If non-organic practitioners will do the same, they can help fill the gap in supply,” he said.
He himself started with chemical-based farming which he learned from his father during the Marcos regime via the Masagana 99. The program aimed to increase yield through varieties dependent on chemical inputs.
The downside of it he learned when he transitioned to organic practices. He said with chemical-based, the crop is the priority, not the soil which gives nutrients to crops.
His transition wasn’t successful, however. His yield decreased because he wasn’t aware that the soil should be nourished first. It alarmed his father, who told him that he was leading their family to hunger.
Read: Why ‘Balik Binhi Program’ is a proactive climate response
So he went back to being chemical-based, until his Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO) initiated a climate resiliency program, together with Rice Watch Action Network (RWAN).
“We followed the initiative of Irosin by tapping RWAN to teach farmers the ways of organic farming through the Climate Resiliency Field School (CRFS),” Mayra Escarda, who is part of the municipal agriculture office, said in a phone interview. This resulted in the Santa Magdalena Farmers’ Association (SantaMagFa) in which Balbido and his now-deceased wife were part of the pioneer batch.
“My wife wasn’t convinced then of organic farming,” he said.
How organic rice fares
Escarda said that the concern was valid. But now she said she can say that there’s a demand for pigmented rice. In one area she’s handling, red and black rice sell fast but the supply isn’t enough.
She cited reasons like many of the organic practitioners that participated in the varietal trial under the CFRS had to plant just a portion of their rice field because soil preparation took time. Some also preferred it for personal consumption.
One variety used by participating farmers that has a good yield is Kayupo. It’s white rice but still organic. In terms of pigmented rice, it’s the Maragaya. The health-conscious buyers including the diabetics prefer the pigmented, Escarda said.
What Balbido finds comforting is the stability of market price for organic rice, even if yields may vary depending on the farming season. During the past (dry) season, he was able to sell 11 sacks of rice and now (wet season) he sells six sacks of rice.
“I’m not behind in terms of income as an organic producer. If I were, I would have gotten back to chemical-based farming,” he said with pride.
Ingredients for organic fertilizers are also not hard to find, and he earns additional income from vermicomposting, a type of composting that uses worms to break down waste materials into nutrients-rich natural fertilizer for better soil structure and water-holding capacity.
True, these concoction processes are laborious. But as long as the soil nutrients are maintained, Balbido said there’s no need to add fertilizers. With chemical-based, you have to because your production depends on it, instead of the nourishment from the soil and genetic resiliency of your crops.
He said one such farmer in Bulan had told him that while the harvest is good, the selling price is not.
Saving seeds is part of his farming practices. “Every time I come across a good variety, I save it. But of all the varieties I tried, it’s this red rice that my buyers want the most. So I stick with it,” he said.
While he was part of RWAN’s CFRS, the rice varieties he used are his own collections. But he said he wouldn’t consider himself an organic farmer because he wasn’t certified due to its expensive costs.
The third-party certification system is meant for large producers and exporters, thankfully the Organic Agriculture Law of the Philippines has been revised in 2020 to allow certification through the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), a localized quality assurance system that is fit for smallholder food producers like him.
The PGS has long been practiced across the world, including by indigenous peoples even before it got its name, said Maria Rowena Buena of MASIPAG in a Zoom interview. And this still continues, like how Balbido’s farming practice is certified by MAO. “The municipal officers came here to check my practices,” he said.
What he needs now is a quality shredder because the nearest to his place is in Irosin, about 43 minutes travel. He’s not also sure if his son will continue his practices because his current job is not related to it. There are also farmers that source seeds from him but don’t practice organic, making him wary in sharing his seeds.
He said he owes his knowledge from past training in sustainable farming and with RWAN, especially in climate preparedness– from saving seeds, farming organically and diversification, and growing market-ready varieties.
If given the opportunity, he’d like to share his knowledge as a farmer-trainor. “My regular buyers, including the wife of our former Mayor, know that my organic rice produce is tested,” Balbido said. (RVO)
Produced with the support of Oscar M. Lopez Center, and with reporting contributions from Maria Rona Beltran.
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