BULA, Camarines Sur – Despite high hype and demand for healthier organic produce, Crispin Cabal, Jr. still encounters considerable amount of opposition against organic farming whenever he conducts seminars and trainings in Camarines Sur. Cabal, the community organizer of Pecuaria Development Cooperative, Inc. of Bula town in Camarines Sur, said getting farmers to switch to organic agriculture from conventional farming in order to meet the growing demand for safer and healthier organic food is quite hard.
He said although most farmers find the idea of organic farming a much safer way of raising food and livestock with the exclusion of harmful synthetic fertilizers, they cannot conceive of the possibility of a decline in yield and profit when they begin their transition.
He said farmers accepted the truth that the soil they are farming needs to be rehabilitated from its acidic state brought about by years of using synthetic fertilizers like urea but they are baffled as to how to do it without going bankrupt. Few brave farmers like the landowners who formed the Pecuaria and the Cagmanaba Association of Neutral Domain for Union Yield of Organic Farmers Group (CAANDUYOG) in Ocampo, Camarines Sur came up with their own technologies to battle this problem which they now share with fellow farmers.
Back to basic
Aileen Rafer, Assistant Focal Person of Organic Agriculture Program of Department of Agriculture (DA) in Camarines Sur, said conversion is seen by farmers as the hardest phase in organic farming. “It is tedious. It takes time and the yield naturally dips at first,” she said.
She explained that the primary difference of organic farming from conventional farming is the total replacement of synthetic fertilizer and insecticides with organic fertilizers made from indigenous materials. She also explained that organic farming welcomes the use of machines and propagation of high-yielding varieties and the creation of innovations that increase harvest unlike traditional farming that only relies on the current situation of the land and the climate in terms of produce.
She added that organic farming is a “back to basic” kind of farming where the farmer allows the natural ecosystem in the farm to flourish with only slight modifications to accommodate the plants and animals he domesticates like rice and livestock. Since there is no use for synthetic fertilizers because of organic composts that feeds the soil, the food an organic farm produces is safer and healthier to consumers, she said.
Santi Cervantes, also a farmer and community organizer from Pecuaria, said the avoidance of using synthetic fertilizer also helps the environment.
He said this is because organic fertilizers do not produce pollutants that kill naturally occurring bacteria in the surroundings that help in the proper growth of plants. He also said it employs the use of other plants like oregano to replace insecticides in keeping pests away from the crops.
Despite the possibility of losing a few cavans of rice every harvest season, head of CAANDUYOG and inventor Carlito Aquino shifted in 2009, converting 5.8 hectares of land in Ocampo, Camarines Sur he inherited from his parents into an organic farm.
He created his own technology with which he converted his land in order to ensure that he would still have enough profit to feed his family after he retired from government service.
“At first, I was into conventional farming. It was expensive. I had so many debts just to buy fertilizers and insecticides,” he said.
His own technology, which he called one-fourth-one-fourth, divides the land and the volume of fertilizer applied into four parts. He then fertilizes one part of the four parts of the land with a mixture of ¾ synthetic fertilizers and ¼ organic fertilizers he made from compost during the first cropping season.
During the succeeding cropping seasons, he incorporates more organic fertilizer into the mixture until all of the synthetic fertilizers are replaced by composts before he moves on to use the same procedure to the other parts of the land.
He said that this process, which may take at least 2-4 years to complete, slowly conditions and rehabilitates the land without decreasing its productivity. He said the process is labor-intensive because it means he had to teach his laborers the importance of the change and how to do it themselves. Incorporating animals, especially chickens, for their wastes and allowing Indigenous Microorganism (IMO) like naturally occurring bacteria to keep pests away are also part of the process.
In Pecuaria, the creation of a bio-organic fertilizer was the result of years of experiments and innovations on the part of the first five farmers who started shifting to organic farming since 1993, Miller Bicaldo, head of Pecuaria and one of the first organic farmers there said.
Bicaldo said his brother Emil formulated the fertilizer, which was certified by Organic Certification Center of the Philippines (OCCP), from 50 percent chicken dung and 50 percent compost after years of trial and error. He said their own transition period stretched for three years which involved increasing the water supply to the rice paddy to kill weeds and enlarging the “pilapil” or the elevated soil surrounding the paddy.
Unlike Aquino, Bicaldo immediately halved the volume of synthetic fertilizer he uses by replacing it with organic fertilizer made from cow manure, dried plants and straw. He said he used several innovations like incorporating plants that repel pests and propagating varieties of colored rice that has higher yield.
It took him a total of 10 years to perfect the technology. Pecuaria, which has around 817 hectares of land, has a membership of around 64 farmers. It is now sharing its technology to farmers all over Camarines Sur.
Cabal said another 23 farmers started converting their lands last year while 43 more from various towns in Camarines Sur confirmed that they will start shifting this year. Aquino said there are now 70 farmers under CAANDUYOG engaging in organic farming in their rice paddies and vegetable gardens.
Cabal explained that conditioning the soil and letting the palay (rice) plants adapt first by introducing a certain amount of organic fertilizer for every cropping season is the key to achieving full rehabilitation of the farm.
He said the Pecuaria technology involves introducing 40 bags of the bio-organic fertilizer into the soil at the first cropping then gradually minimizing the consumption to 30, 20 and 10 by the second, third and fourth seasons.
He said the farm would produce at least 5-10 cavans lesser rice during the first cropping with the bio-organic fertilizer than when it is under conventional farming method, but it would allow the farmer to save at least P15,000 which should have gone to synthetic fertilizers and insecticides. This savings would increase to around P22,500 during the last cropping season of using bio-organic fertilizer, after which, the farmer is free to decide whether he would continue with the organic fertilizer or not, he added.
He also said the conversion will depend upon how acidic the soil is. If the soil receives seven bags of urea every cropping, it would take at least three years for it to be completely converted into an organic farm.
Aquino said sheer determination and commitment to shift to organic farming were the ingredients to his success. He said he now harvests 146 cavans of rice per hectare. A very high production compared to 70-80 cavans he used to harvest when he was still using the conventional method.
Cabal said farmers using the Pecuaria technology harvest 70-80 cavans of rice per hectare but profits more than the conventional farmer because they propagate various varieties of colored rice.
The cooperative buys the rice from the farmers then sells it at their showroom in Bula and to big malls and health stores in Bicol. Each kilo of black rice from Pecuria sells for P55 per kilo while the more abundant red rice sells for P45 per kilo at farm gate price, he said.
The Pecuaria farmer, therefore, profits at least more than P30 than a conventional farmer who propagates traditional white rice and sells it at regular market price. Added to this is the savings he incurred during the cropping season, Cabal said.
Bicaldo explained that the colored variety they propagate in Pecuaria were the anomalies seen growing among the white rice variety that they picked out and propagated.
“In order to succeed in organic farming, the farmer has to welcome the opportunity to innovate,” he said.