BRIEF DESCRIPTION / BACKGROUND OF THE PROJECT
Organic agriculture, consumption and lifestyle have become one of the more defining development trend in Asia. More and more governments are adopting organic agriculture, both as an alternative and substitute to prevailing agriculture practices and technologies dominated by conventional/ chemical based farming. The number of consumers that accepts and has decided to shift to an organic lifestyle (both food and non-food) have increased substantially over the years. Because of these, there is a need for a regional conference where participants are updated on the existing policies, trends, practices and problems on organic agriculture and to develop a consensus on how best to contribute in the advancement of organic agriculture amongst the countries participating in the workshop. Thus, the workshop aims to get the current state of organic agriculture policies, programs and practices in each participating countries and come up with an action plan that seeks to advance a common response to the issues, problems and concerns of organic agriculture with the end in view of helping strengthen this sector.
OBJECTIVES FOR PARTICIPATION
My participation in the project is essentially driven by La Liga’s involvement both in the sphere of policy advocacy and ground level promotion of organic agriculture practices. There were three objectives of my participation in the regional conference:
(1) present to a multi-country audience the current state of organic agriculture policies and practices in the Philippines;
(2) Learn from the presentation from other participants on how organic agriculture has evolved in Asia and the strategies being undertaken to address the challenges faced by organic agriculture in their respective counties; and,
(3) find evidence from the presentation of the experts and the participants that will validate/ reinforce La Liga’s framework and strategies for the promotion of organic agriculture specially in relation to issues on the practice and application of certification and standards.
PROFILE OF PARTICIPANTS
The workshop was attended by participants from Bangladesh (1), Taiwan ROC (1), Indonesia (1), Republic of Korea (2), Nepal (2), Pakistan (1), Philippines (1), Sri Lanka (2), Thailand (2) and Vietnam (1).
SCOPE, CONTENT AND METHODOLOGY
Highlights of Presentations and Discussions:
The Indian government has successfully pursued an organic agriculture program even given the fact that 70 percent of India’s land area is classified as rain fed (no irrigation). The Ministry of Agriculture in India was able to simultaneously allow third party certification with the participatory guarantee system certification for organic products. What makes his presentation effective and powerful was his ability to present concrete cases and measures (e.g. incentive to farmers in exchange for their shift to organic; data with regard to export income across the years) on how India applied this program and continues to innovate in relation to penetrating the global market.
A sharing session on the experience of 24 Letters of India was also conducted. 24 letters is a chain of retail stores very similar to 7-11 which only sells/carries organic products. This case sharing effectively demonstrated the use of multimedia platform as a way to convince Indian consumers to patronize their stores scattered throughout the country. Their story offers a wealth of experience on how to effectively create a consumers market for organic products.
As the former head of IFOAM Mr. Hermann’s presentation combined the update on global market trends and sector orientation laced with ideological undertones. Among his assertions were: (1) the European market for organics has reached a saturation point thus Asian organic practitioners are encourage to penetrate the huge Asian market; principally the emerging economic powerhouse like China, India and Southeast Asia; (2) Cheap food is bad food!; and, (3) Subsidies and incentive schemes applied by the government (including the Philippines) should be reviewed given the prevalence of cases where such programs became instruments for corruption and patronage rather than as a tool that empowers the farmers to adopt non-conventional farming methods.
Dr. Chen’s presentation highlighted the case of his school Mingdao University, where the campus was transformed into an organic agriculture learning farm. The open spaces in the university were put to sustainable uses. At the same time, the University integrated organic agriculture in its academic curriculum. Later this year (2011) Mingdao and the Taiwan Organic Movement are planning to hold an organic golf tournament aimed at promoting organic products utilizing as a platform a popular recreational activity. The campaign shall also advocate for Taiwan’s golf courses to use organic inputs in their greens.
Site visit: Utra Pradesh State, Day 3
The conference also organized a site visit to a farmer’s farm in the State of Utra Pradesh. The site visit was able to provide a vivid representation to the input of Dr. Yadav on how organic agriculture is practice in India. The organic farm is a ten hectare land which uses drip irrigation and is planted with a variety of food staples and commodities. The farm is also a model for utilization of green energy since power supply is derived from methane gas produced from cow dung. The farmer-owner is both a practitioner and a trainor. The farmer-owner was able to articulate the principles and practices of organic agriculture as it applies to their farm. The site visit was also able to surface concerns related logistics problem when it comes to transportation arranged by the conference organizers. The bus rented by the organizers conked out twice to and from the farm tarnishing an otherwise fruitful field exposure trip.
OUTCOMES AND EVALUATION
The more important gain of my participation in this conference is the crafting of a Philippine country paper that sought to define and put into proper perspective (especially after the passage of the land mark Philippine Organic Agriculture Law). The state of organic agriculture in the Philippines in the context of the Conference`s focus on the application of organic standards and labels across Asia. The paper surfaces important policy considerations and recommendations that seek to shape the directions of the organic movement and program in the Philippines in a way where there is an even appreciation of the on how the existing policy gain must be strengthened. The experiences provided by conference participants and speakers reinforced the country paper`s contention especially in relation to the systematic application of certification schemes and procedures.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND ACTION STEPS
The action plan which served as the conference output providing broad guidelines to be work on by conference participants is a good staring point for continued follow up and interaction among the participants. The Conference also served as an important tune up to the World Organic Congress that will take place in South Korea this September.
On the part of La Liga, the position and recommendations articulated in the country paper shall be pursued in all available policy avenues both at the national and sub-national levels with the end in view of creating a consensus around these proposals and eventually strengthens the policy and programs on organic agriculture in the Philippines. Central to the pursuit of this consensus building is the effective engagement of the current leadership of the Department of Agriculture which has unmistakably demonstrated a remarkable knowledge and understanding on the need to promote organic agriculture as a complementary strategy to the broad agriculture program being pursued by the national government. There is also a need to involve a greater number of local government units which will make organic agriculture a centerpiece of their local agriculture program, providing for appropriate policy instruments and budget.
Finally, we suggest that DAP considers organic agriculture as one of its entry point in making its presence felt (and in broadening its project portfolio) in the direction of establishing a foothold in rural development initiatives.
ROLAND G. CABIGAS
La Liga Policy Institute (Go Organic!)