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Agro-Eco Philippines Helps Transition Filipino Farmers to Agroecological and Organic Regenerative Practices

DAVAO, PHILIPPINES – Nearly one year ago today, Regeneration International (RI) signed the “Regeneration Philippines” pact, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Filipino League of Organic Municipalities Cities and Provinces (LOAMCP) and RI. 

Fast forward to today and we are blessed to have reconnected virtually with our friends in the Philippines, this time, through the addition of a new RI partner, Agro-Eco Philippines (AEP), an organization dedicated to “building resilient farming communities and sustainable economies.”

AEP began its work with small farmers in Mindanao or the Southern Philippines in 1991. Today, the non-profit government organization (NGO) works with 4,000 individual farmers in 300 farmers’ organizations in Mindanao, eastern Visayas and eastern Luzon. 

Its mission is to advocate for Filipino’s right to healthy food, alleviate hunger in poverty-stricken farming communities and teach farmers organic regenerative and agroecological practices that produce healthy food, increase the socio-economic livelihood of farmers, and build resilience against the effects of climate change. 

AEP also invests in the development of local markets through community-led research to help boost profits for smallholder farmers.

AEP and its work transitioning conventional Filipino farmers to agroecological and organic regenerative agriculture practices is showcased in our “Trails of Regeneration” video series, which highlights stories of regeneration throughout the globe. 

In our latest episode, “Agro-Eco Philippines Helps Farmers Go Organic,” AEP’s Executive Director Geonathan Barro discusses how the NGO has trained an impressive number of farmers on organic practices. Barro told us in a Zoom interview:

“So far, we have trained roughly 10,000 conventional farmers to go organic. The key is to build on the hard labor of the previous years without relying on middle men or corporate entities to distribute and process our products.”

AEP is firm in its belief that the role humans play on farms is a key component of agroecology. According to its website

“Farmers . . . are critical actors in agroecological practice and agroecological transformation. They are stewards of biodiversity and the real keepers of relevant knowledge for this agenda. It is therefore important that agroecological knowledge and technologies are developed on the basis of farmers’ own knowledge and experimentation. Further, this means that agroecology has to be context-specific and culturally appropriate. Agroecology makes best use of the human, social, and environmental capital available locally.”

Green Revolution forces farmers into degenerative farming model

The future hasn’t always been so bright for some farmers in the Philippines.

Since the launch of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, Filippino farmers have largely depended on degenerative agricultural models that have forced millions of farmers into debt due to the high cost of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that over time eroded the soil and polluted waterways. 

More than half a century ago, the Filipiino government, with influence from the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, created the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). In 1962, the IRRI crossed Dee-Geo-woo-gen and Peta rice strains to create IR8 or “miracle rice.” By 1981, “miracle rice” accounted for more than 80 percent of total rice crops in the Philippines.

The “miracle rice” produced high yieldsten times the amount of traditional rice varietiesallowing the Philippines to go from being an importer of rice to a global exporter.

Unfortunately, the benefits of the Green Revolution were short-lived. They were also outweighed by the rising costs of high-debt, falling income and the environmental consequences of chemical-intensive agriculture. 

This chain of events is found in many developing countries that fell victim to big agricultural corporations selling high-yielding seeds that provide productive harvests the first year, but then require major increases in chemical inputs the following year. 

The allure of high (but unsustainable) crop yields has led to a system of enslaved farmers whose farmlands have been rendered unproductive without the application of synthetic and chemical inputs.

Over time, pesticides destroy key microbes in the soil and alter its ability to retain nutrients and water, which makes farmers more vulnerable to drought, floods, pests and crop-related diseases. This escalates production costs that put smallholder farmers at risk of bankruptcy. 

Filippino farmers campaigning against Monsanto’s Golden Rice, promoting regenerative systems of rice intensification and defending local seed sovereignty.

AEP teaches farmers organic regenerative practices that benefit the environment and the community

AEP is working to break the patterns of conventional food and farming systems by providing smallholder farmers with free access to local indigenous seeds and information on practices such as composting, cover cropping, seed saving, crop rotation and the integration of livestock. 

It also teaches farmers about agroforestry, the incorporation of trees into agriculture, and encourages the exchange of knowledge between fellow farmers.

Agroecological and organic regenerative farming practices have never been more important. Like many nations around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to food shortages in the Philippines. 

The silver lining, however, is that empty store shelves have encouraged locals to buy directly from their farmer. Not only does this help small farmers, but it also provides families with safe, nutritious food that builds a strong immune system, Barro told RI.

Selling direct to consumers, and removing grocery stores from the equation, has allowed Filippino farmers to sell their products for less money. 

Luz Astronomo, an AEP member and small farmer from Davao City, Philippines, told RI in a Zoom interview that he’s able to sell his produce for 60 percent less than other produce because everything he needs to grow it comes from his farm, including the seeds and organic inputs.

“So, we don’t have to sell our products at a high price,” he said. 

In many localities, conventional farmers are now buying food from organic farmers because the monoculture systems they depend on are failing to compete with the diversified agroecological systems practiced by AEP’s members. Barro told RI:

“These are very difficult times brought about by COVID-19, but these very difficult times have painted us a picture of what kind of agriculture the world needs to overcome such crises.”

Organic regenerative agriculture helps fight climate change

In addition to producing healthier food, agroecological and organic regenerative farming practices help mitigate climate change by building healthy soil that draws down excess atmospheric carbon and stores it in the ground.

Farmers are instrumental in addressing climate change because they experience the impacts of a changing climate, Barro said.

AEP recognizes this, too, which is why it now offers a course on soil quality management to teach farmers how to better manage soil when dealing with pests, disease and climate extremes. 

Mr. René Garcia, also a small farmer and member of AEP, says regenerative agriculture practices help restore key microbes in the soil. Garcia told us in a Zoom interview:

 “We are practicing regenerative agriculture to return microorganisms to the soil that feed the plants. By using the systems of rice intensification, which can reduce flooding in rice paddies and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and can also help conserve water and boost yields.”

AEP believes that all farmers can grow resilient to the effects of climate change by caring for their soil, ditching the toxic chemicals, producing and distributing food locally, and practicing and advocating for organic regenerative farming systems.

“Success stories of farmers that are working to mitigate and adapt to climate change will inspire people all over the world,” said Barro, adding that it gives people hope to know others are coming together to make this world a better place. 

Stay tuned for more stories of regeneration both in the Philippines and around the world. 

Oliver Gardiner represents Regeneration International in Europe and Asia. To keep up with news and events, sign up here for the Regeneration International newsletter.