Going Organic

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ZURICH, SWITZERLAND – In Europe where I am at the moment, the labels “green” “bio”,”eco” or “organic” are by now familiar to the general population. There’s no escaping daily news and information about the severe and sometimes irreversible damage the planet has already sustained, or the call for people to change attitudes and behavior in many aspects of everyday life. But this is hard! As one commentator says, most people are “self-centered, short —sighted, intent on their comfort and averse to sacrifice.” And yet, to a small extent, environmental awareness is influencing producer and consumer behavior here, as demonstrated by the availability of products certified environmentally acceptable, and also by the organic food sections in most supermarkets.

In our case, the general population has as yet little understanding of the importance of environmental concerns, as do few political leaders. Which is why it was remarkable that in 2005, both Negros Occidental and Oriental governors signed a MOA towards the attainment of an environmental dream called “Negros Organic Island.” Forward-looking, ambitious and very difficult without strong political will, it aimed to promote and develop organic agriculture towards food security and safety, and to protect the island’s biodiversity, (at serious risk from human encroachment and exploitation, from contamination in chemical agriculture, and climate change.) 

 
Now, all of five years later, an ordinance authored by Board Member Lea Bromo seeks to “mainstream organic agriculture as a main agricultural practice in Negros Oriental…” The proposed ordinance is excellent, necessary and worthy of support,, and moreover, implements the national law promoting organic agriculture.

Some comments on the present draft of the ordinance:

Stated first in the resolution’s enumeration of objectives is “to capture the burgeoning export market for organic products” abroad. While trade benefits may be envisioned, it should be recognized that in fact the market is still small. Organic food products account for only a 4% market share in Germany, already the biggest buyer of such products. Further, European Union and other standards and certification processes are stringent and compliance may require particular effort, time and resources.

Certainly, more basic objectives should be foregrounded: food security and improved human health, management of natural resources including the conservation of biodiversity and the restoration of soil fertility, the reduction of pollution and other environmental harms, as well as the empowerment and improved economic situation of farmers.

The ordinance seems to show a bias for plant agriculture and mentions crops, seed banks, fertilizers and the like. The ethical and organic production of food animals is implied but not specifically mentioned. Animal feeds and medical practices in this area also need to be addressed to protect human health, animal welfare and environmental contamination.

While the ordinance focuses its strategies and resources on “small-holder communities” and ‘marginalized farmers,” an area of concern requires further deliberation: policies and strategies to address monoculture and large-scale agribusinesses. The ordinance is weak in its language for dealing with these economically more powerful and in land area more significant agricultural sectors when it speaks of seeking to “influence” or “encourage” them towards organic practices. More concrete measures could be envisaged and negotiated: devoting defined and then growing land areas, inputs and resources, and perhaps even a percentage of profits for organic agriculture. There is no way that the ordinance’s declared policy to “mainstream organic agriculture as a main agricultural practice in Negros Oriental” can be realized if monocultures and large agribusinesses are let off the hook. Nor could Negros ever give itself the title of “Organic Island” as dreamed by two governors in 2005. At best, there would be pockets of organic agriculture amidst extensive sugar and other large-scale agricultural enterprises. It might also be helpful under the definition of terms to specify what constitutes large-scale agriculture.-

Worth exploring and not just for Negros Oriental, is the idea of a tax on environmentally harmful agricultural practices, or on the other hand, tax incentives for organic production. But exerting legal pressure and thereby generating the resources to counter chemical agriculture will require national law if existing laws do not already address this.. The province could be instrumental in encouraging environmental lawyers to conceptualize new legal instruments.

For the success of this crucial endeavor, significant resources are needed. This province’s natural vocation is agriculture and there should be no higher budget priority other than for health, than the development of organic agriculture. This is a challenge the provincial government should meet and in support of this ambition for the province, component LGUs should cooperate with strong programs for their agricultural sectors. New and not-so-new administrations will take office next month, will it be the same piecemeal, haphazard, stop-and-go approach to governance or might we see some vision, direction and bold moves for once?

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