“Hearing farmers talk about the issues they face and being part of their struggles is one of the best ways to truly understand the realities of poverty and food insecurity. I can attest to this for it transformed me.”
My name is Lucille Ortiz and I work for MASIPAG, a farmer-led network of people’s organizations, non-government organizations, and scientists in the Philippines working towards farmer empowerment.
Working with MASIPAG has given me deep insight into the struggles of small-scale farmers and their fight for:
- Genuine agrarian reform.
- Rights and control over seeds and technology.
- Freedom from the fertilizer-pesticide cycle, GMOs and associated debt.
- Rights to uphold food security through safe farming.
Agriculture in the Philippines
The Philippines is an agricultural country with small-scale farmers comprising almost 70% of all farmers. It is a country whose government is conflicted with ties to major agrochemical corporations and where support for sustainable, organic agriculture is often limited.
This though has not deterred MASIPAG from campaigning for farmers and farmers’ rights. Being an inspiration to law makers is considered one of the vast contributions of organic farmers. Another role of MASIPAG in the organic agriculture sector has been to increase awareness in the Department of Agriculture of Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) as an alternative system of organic certification.
In addition, the government also recognizes the expertise of MASIPAG and it sits as a member of the Technical Working Group working on PGS guidelines.
“Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) are locally focused quality assurance systems. They certify producers based on the active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust, social networks, and knowledge exchange.”
Becoming part of a PGS initiative opens up opportunities for small-scale farmers, who cannot always afford the services of third party certifiers, to label and sell their produce, as guaranteed organic, at local markets. Consumers, in turn, can be sure the food they put on their plates has been produced sustainably and free of harmful inputs.
Capacity Building for Organic Farmers
As part of a Capacity Building Program for Organic Farmers Organizations (OFOs) conducted by IFOAM – Organics International, I carried out a small project in 2016 supporting small-scale farmers in the Philippines who are practicing the MASIPAG Farmers Guarantee System (MFGS); a program focusing on local processing and marketing since 2004.
Several activities of the small project also helped to strengthen and scale-up the MFGS, a local adaptation of Participatory Guarantee Systems, and provide organic farmers with marketing support.
The activities focused on capacity building of farmers, advocacy with local authorities as well as the training of trainers and strengthening the national PGS network.
As this kind of guarantee system is localized, experiences and lessons from different groups are valuable and farmer-to-farmer exchanges play a major role in sharing knowledge and know-how. A series of training on business skills was also organized where planning and costing exercises enabled producers to see whether or not they were actually making a profit.
For farmers, though, it is clear that their priority in production is food security, then comes marketing, if they have organic surplus to sell.
Overall, the activities conducted under this program helped strengthen capacities of Organic Farmers Organizations (OFOs) as well as PGS in the Philippines. Support given to small-scale OFOs has enabled them to reach out to even more farmers and assist them in transitioning to organic agriculture and securing livelihoods, sustainably. Additionally, by linking farmers to markets, they are able to establish and maintain relationships with their customers and consumers learn more about the people who grow their food and how they do it.
Challenges Facing Organic Agriculture
Nevertheless, the biggest threats on a national level remain the persistent promotion and distribution of chemical inputs and GM crops as well as the destructive impact of climate change on farming communities. Here, sustainable and organic agriculture has proven to be an effective tool for small-scale, resource-poor farmers in the Philippines to defy the depressing, destructive effects of the Green and Gene Revolutions and a way to break free from the control of agrochemical corporations.
We must therefore continue building strong grassroots networks for the strength of the global organic movement lies in the strength of local organic farming organizations.