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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.

Soil Power! The Dirty Way to a Green Planet

The last great hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change may lie in a substance so commonplace that we typically ignore it or else walk all over it: the soil beneath our feet.

The earth possesses five major pools of carbon. Of those pools, the atmosphere is already overloaded with the stuff; the oceans are turning acidic as they become saturated with it; the forests are diminishing; and underground fossil fuel reserves are being emptied. That leaves soil as the most likely repository for immense quantities of carbon.

Now scientists are documenting how sequestering carbon in soil can produce a double dividend: It reduces climate change by extracting carbon from the atmosphere, and it restores the health of degraded soil and increases agricultural yields. Many scientists and farmers believe the emerging understanding of soil’s role in climate stability and agricultural productivity will prompt a paradigm shift in agriculture, triggering the abandonment of conventional practices like tillage, crop residue removal, mono-cropping, excessive grazing and blanket use of chemical fertilizer and pesticide.

 

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Corporate Agribusiness Is Blocking Important Action on the Climate

Climate change action plans often call for less fossil fuel usage, reduced carbon dioxide emissions and a shift toward renewable energy sources. But one area that hasn’t received the broader attention it deserves is industrial farming.

The latest report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) determined that the turning over of more and more land to commercial agriculture has resulted in increasing net greenhouse gas emissions, the loss of natural ecosystems and declining biodiversity. And so, “sustainable land management can contribute to reducing the negative impacts of multiple stressors, including climate change,” the report finds.

This IPCC offering followed on the heels of the National Academies of Sciences study into negative emissions technologies and carbon sequestration, which also found that efforts to store more carbon in agricultural soils generally have “large positive side benefits,” including increased productivity, water holding capacity and yield stability.

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Soil Is the Unsung Hero in the Fight Against World Hunger

Cutting-edge tech promises to produce food more cheaply and at a greater scale than we ever thought possible: tractors with AI, gene-edited crops, and single-sex dairy cow reproduction have made the news lately. Many of these innovations are the natural outgrowth of a century focused on reducing food production to a series of inputs that can yield something ingestible at the greatest possible profit.

Photo credit: Pexels

We moderns have tended to look on these innovations with admiration, as we do with so many technological and industrial advancements—they reflect our inclination to seek ever-greater control and domination over natural systems.

Yet food is an area where we should be deeply engaged with natural systems, rather than trying to dominate them. We should be looking to nature for answers to today’s big questions: How will we feed 9 billion people by 2050? How will we grow enough food on a hotter planet?

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Paul Hawken: Why We Need to Regenerate More Than Just Agriculture

In this talk, Paul Hawken, noted environmentalist and author, talks about why we need to regenerate more than just agriculture to heal our diseased earth and bodies. He discusses the difference between climate change and global warming and how our food choices impact the environment, before sharing innovative solutions to tackling some of our world’s biggest problems.

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE

Want Healthier Soil? Link It to Crop Insurance

Author: Elizabeth Grossman | Published on: May 2, 2017

Most farmers know that the health of their soil is important, but they don’t all prioritize it over, say, maximizing what they grow each year. Now, some scientists are looking into ways to ensure that more farmers—especially those producing commodity crops in the middle of the country—start taking soil seriously.

The world’s biggest crop insurance program, the U.S. Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) provides coverage to help farmers recover from “severe weather and bad years of production.” But recently, a pair of Cornell University scientists looked at what might happen if crop insurance were also tied to soil quality—that is, if insurance companies began considering soil data when determining rates.

In a new paper, Cornell University assistant professor of agricultural business and finance Joshua Woodard and post-doctoral research assistant Leslie Verteramo Chiu argue that tying the Crop Insurance Program to the health of a farm’s soil could make it a powerful tool for promoting more sustainable and resilient farming. Including soil data in crop insurance criteria, they write, would “open the door to improving conservation outcomes” and help farmers better manage risks to food security and from climate change.

Or, as Paul Wolfe, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) senior policy specialist, explained, “The big picture is that crop insurance could be a great way to incentivize conservation, but it isn’t now.”

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Want Good Soil? Feed the Microbes

Author: Kathy Voth  | Published on: March 20, 2017

In June of 2014, Grist reporter Nathanael Johnson reported on a battle between two men in New South Wales Australia. Clive Kirkby and John Kirkegaard were having it out over the proper handling of crop residues after harvest. Kirkby was trying to get farmers to stop torching wheat stubble. Rather than letting fire release all that carbon into the atmosphere, he told them that they could increase soil organic matter and build healthier, carbon-rich soils by leaving the stubble in the field.  John Kirkegaard, an agronomist, told Kirkby he was wrong. The practice of burning and cultivating was what was growing the best crops.

As most folks will tell you nowadays, cultivating, or plowing, disrupts soil microbes and releases even more carbon into the air. That’s why no-till is becoming increasingly popular. But the practice that Kirkby was promoting didn’t seem to be making a difference either. After six years of leaving stubble in the field, Kirkegaard’s data showed that soil organic matter and the carbon it holds wasn’t increasing, and in some cases, it was even decreasing.

Farmers have been encouraged to leave stubble in the field for the same reason that management-intensive grazing proponents leave plenty of forage behind in pasture: It’s food for the soil. Put more precisely, it’s fuel for a complex, not entirely understood food web of fungi, insects, and microbes eating the residue and each other and transforming plant remains into stable, carbon-rich soil.

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3 Big Myths About Modern Agriculture

Author: David R. Montgomery  | Published on: April 5, 2017

The following essay is reprinted with permission from The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.The Conversation

One of the biggest modern myths about agriculture is that organic farming is inherently sustainable. It can be, but it isn’t necessarily. After all, soil erosion from chemical-free tilled fields undermined the Roman Empire and other ancient societies around the world. Other agricultural myths hinder recognizing the potential to restore degraded soils to feed the world using fewer agrochemicals.

When I embarked on a six-month trip to visit farms around the world to research my forthcoming book, “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life,” the innovative farmers I met showed me that regenerative farming practices can restore the world’s agricultural soils. In both the developed and developing worlds, these farmers rapidly rebuilt the fertility of their degraded soil, which then allowed them to maintain high yields using far less fertilizer and fewer pesticides.

Their experiences, and the results that I saw on their farms in North and South Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Ghana and Costa Rica, offer compelling evidence that the key to sustaining highly productive agriculture lies in rebuilding healthy, fertile soil. This journey also led me to question three pillars of conventional wisdom about today’s industrialized agrochemical agriculture: that it feeds the world, is a more efficient way to produce food and will be necessary to feed the future.

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How Soil Microbes and Intercellular Communication Affect Human Health

Author: Dr. Joseph Mercola | Published on: April 9, 2017

Your health is in large part determined by the health of the soil in which your food is grown. In this interview, Dr. Zach Bush delves into the many reasons why this is so.

Bush, who is triple board-certified in internal medicine, endocrinology and metabolism, and hospice and palliative care has done some fascinating and innovative research in this area and is one of the brightest physicians I have ever met.

He began his career as a conventional cancer researcher funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

When his funding dried up following the 2008-2010 recession, Bush transitioned into nutrition, eventually coming to understand how chronic inflammation and loss of intercellular communication is at the core of all disease, and why so many of our foods have lost their medicinal value.

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Regenerative Organics: Drawing a Line in the Soil

Author: Rose Marcario | Published on: December 8, 2016

In recent years, we’ve seen a boom in production and sales of organic foods worldwide. The global organic food market is expected to grow by 16 percent between 2015 and 2020, a faster rate than conventionally-grown foods.

This seems like good news—but in truth, organic farming makes up just a tiny fraction of the global agriculture system controlled by a few giant corporations generating enormous profits. And it’s about to get worse: If current deals in the works make it past European and U.S. regulators, three companies—Bayer, DowDupont and ChemChina—will own two-thirds of the world’s seeds and pesticides.

This unfortunate reality threatens to hold us hostage for decades as conventional agriculture continues to ravage our planet: gobbling up immense fossil fuels for production and shipping, flooding the earth with toxic synthetic pesticides and deadening our soil’s biodiversity with GMO seeds (along with the taste of our food). Conventional agriculture also generates a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions now baking our atmosphere.

And food is just part of the picture. Consider cotton, a fiber used to make a large majority of our clothing globally: just one percent is grown organically. That figure has stayed mostly stagnant since at least 1996, the year Patagonia started sourcing 100 percent organic cotton. It’s especially appalling considering 16 percent of all pesticides used worldwide are used to grow conventional cotton—exposure to which has been linked to higher rates of cancer and other diseases. Conventional GMO farming practices also reduce soil fertility and biodiversity, require more water and large amounts of herbicides, alter the nutritional content of our food, and result in toxic runoff that pollutes our rivers, lakes and oceans.

Thankfully, the status quo isn’t our only option. Regenerative organic agriculture includes any agricultural practice that increases soil organic matter from baseline levels over time, provides long-term economic stability for farmers and ranchers, and creates resilient ecosystems and communities. Put simply, this approach presents an opportunity to reclaim our farming system on behalf of the planet and human health—while fulfilling the obvious need to feed and clothe billions of people around the world. We can produce what we need and revitalize soil at the same time, thereby sequestering carbon currently polluting the atmosphere and warming our planet.

The good news: a small but growing list of organizations with good intentions have embraced regenerative organics in recent years. In particular, this approach (and terminology) has been championed by groups like the Rodale Institute and Regeneration International, and as a result, some businesses have begun taking serious interest. At Patagonia, our interest and knowledge has grown over many years: We began rebuilding our natural fiber supply chains to include organic practices 25 years ago, starting with cotton; more recently, we’ve been prioritizing regenerative practices for apparel and with our food business, Patagonia Provisions.

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