To make a living simply by tilling the land and planting rice and vegetables, as Jomar Pacaldo’s family had done for generations, is not sufficient for a son to come from a long line of farmers.
Jomar has spent his entire life farming primarily vegetables in Brgy. Kemdeng in the northern Palawan town of San Vicente, and he is aware of how difficult it is to make a living doing so.
The difficulties facing agricultural families—meeting the rising demand for higher-quality food, investing in farm productivity, learning new technologies, the lack of government support for farmers, remaining resilient in the face of natural disasters, and managing the effects of climate change—has not spared him.
However, he is aware that he must continue because his family depends on him. Jomar must adapt to the changing times in order to continue profiting from agricultural production.
One day in 2014, he decided to switch to organic farming in order to produce safe products and aid in mitigating the effects of agriculture on the ongoing trend of climate change.
The transition was challenging, but he remained committed to abandoning the use of synthetic chemicals in his farming practice after learning that agriculture significantly contributes to climate change due to the production of large quantities of methane and nitrous oxide, two potent greenhouse gases.
“Ang unang nalalason ng isang tao na gumagamit ng mga synthetic ay sarili nila. Pag-spray nila, malalanghap nila. Ang pagkain na ginamitan ng synthetic [fertilizers], hindi talaga mawawala ang synthetic doon. Pangalawa, ang climate change talaga—malaki talaga ang kontribusyon ng farmer,” Pacaldo said.
When he switched to organic farming, his rice field costs, including labor and agricultural inputs, dropped dramatically to P5,000.
He believed that if all farmers could save a lot of money by going organic, it would also save them funds from the middlemen who usually dictated the buying price of their products after harvest.
“Ang magsasaka nagiging magsasako na lang, nagiging labor na lang sila sa sarili nilang area– Ang ani niya ay pambayad niya na sa pangatlong utang niya, ‘yon na ang nangyayari aya hindi na makaalis-alis sa utang,” he said.
Farmers are more vulnerable to debt because of ongoing farming problems, according to Laurence Padilla, director of the Palawan Center for Appropriate Technology (PCART).
“Maraming problema ang mga magsasaka natin kaya mast prone sila na mangutang na lang kasi walang-wala na sila,” he said.
Contribution of farming to climate change
Padilla, who has spent decades working in development with rural communities, claims that chemical use in farming is more prevalent in rice than in other crops.
Rice farming that is chemically dependent emits methane, he added.
“Ang rice natin ay chemical-based, sa ibang crops ay hindi masyado like saging at iba pa, grows naturally. Pero ang mga gulay ay ginagamitan ‘yan,” he said.
He added that agriculture contributes 15 to 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the United Nations (UN), the sun’s heat retention due to greenhouse gas emissions causes global warming and climate change.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), rice cultivation and livestock emissions account for roughly 32 percent of human-caused methane emissions. It is a powerful greenhouse gas and is 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide over 20 years, it added.
It is also a primary contributor to the formation of greenhouse gas, ground-level ozone, which exposure to causes one million premature deaths every year, UNEP noted.
Future of organic farming vs climate change
Padilla observed that some farmers have decided to stop farming in the meantime due to the high cost of farm inputs. This action helps to reduce the use of chemical-based farm inputs and is one of the reasons why others are looking into organic farming as an option.
“Mali-lessen ang paggamit ng chemical fertilizer so mas magko-contribute ‘yon sa environment. Mas napo-pollute kasi ang environment kapag gumagamit ng pesticide at chemical fertilizer, ang tubig at hangin,” he said.
He stressed that food sufficiency can also be attained using organic farming, believing that an integrated farming system out of practice would be sustainable and help farmers economically.
Having sustainable livelihood is also a lesson taught by the pandemic, he added.
But considering the economic situation of farmers, the shift must be gradual.
“Iyon ang way out, kung ipagpapatuloy nila ang conventional farming, wala silang pupuntahan. Ang way out talaga ay organic farming pero sa sitwasyon nila ngayon, hindi sila pwedeng mag-shift agad-agad,’ he said.
Challenges in organic farming
Organic farming may be difficult for those who have found success with the conventional method. Jomar stated that’s because it requires the farmer to produce his or her own fertilizer and animal feeds.
“Ang pagiging tamad ng tao, ‘yon ang nagiging problema. Kasi marami naman na pwedeng hindi na bilhin. Marami naman sa tindahan na mga synthetic,” he said.
There should be a change in attitude and appreciation of farmers towards the benefits of organic farming to make it work. However, he thinks that it would be a lot of work to convince the older farmers who have aged in farming using synthetic products.
Organic farming in Palawan
According to provincial agriculturist Dr. Romeo Cabungcal, the majority of organic farming practices in Palawan focus on vegetable cultivation, with only a few exceptions on rice. The Office of Provincial Agriculture (OPA) assists farmers in six towns farmers in six towns who are experimenting with organic farming.
“Ang awareness as for organic agriculture is concern, ang taas. Because of the health benefits na nadi-derive when taking or consuming mga organic agriculture products,” he said.
OPA also established a demo farm called Sustainable and Innovative Agriculture (SINAG) sa Balay sa Oma showcasing naturally grown products. It has vermicomposting facilities, carbonized rice hulls, insecticides and pesticides from plants sourced around the area.
He noted that certification for the organic farm is a tedious process, which is also the complaint of farmers like Jomar. Establishing a participatory guarantee system to serve as a certifying body will also help save from the cost entailed in certification, he added.
Certification is needed to label products grown from natural farming. The OPA still looks at possible ways to separate naturally grown products from chemical-based products. The naturally grown commodities ought to be priced higher, considering the labor-intensive production, he said.
He added that shifting must be done gradually considering the possible volume of production of some commodities.
“Malaki ang potensyal because of so many areas ng Palawan. May mga area na intended for organic production. Definitely, hindi naman lahat mako-convince ang farmer to do organic farming,” he said.
Jomar believes that the collaboration between the government and private sector could fast-track the information dissemination and the development of organic farming in Palawan.
Strengthening education campaigns and consistency in government support even administration changes must be given importance, he added.
Padilla, on the other hand, stands that government also needs to invest in improving its assistance to farmers. There must be a good preparation of land before production, he added.
“Ang problema ay kaunting-kaunti ang suporta ng government kaya hirap na hirap ang mga magsasaka. Ang mga magsasaka natin ay laging nagmamadali, hindi nag-aayos talaga ng lupa,” he said.
With the right amount of support, it can saturate the province in three years. The market should also be organized and have a separate space for organic products, Padilla said.
“Maihanda nila ‘yong lupa nila na magkaroon ng integrated farm, yong waste nila ay mapakinabangan nila, matu-turn into organic fertilizer. Para manumbalik ang fertility ng lupa nila kasi nawala ‘yon simula nong gumamit sila ng chemical fertilizer,” he said.