Leon and Alimodian towns stand as models in Iloilo Province in organic farming. Both have organized farmers’ groups committed to the earth-friendly farming system that considers chemicals as “last resort” if not irrelevant. Both have local officialdoms sympathetic to their cause.
During the first incumbency of Gov. Arthur D. Defensor, Sr. (1991-2001), the Iloilo Provincial Agriculture Office, then under Apolinario Sotomil, had technicians dedicated to organic farming. They regularly set out to municipalities to train farmers in “integrated pest management” (IPM), another concept for organic farming, in growing vegetables and rice.
“Chemical dependent farming is unsustainable,” Defensor would tell farmers. “In the long haul, whatever income you earned will just be wasted in medicines because chemicals destroy your health”.
During that decade, all towns practically, have “field schools” or discussion groups organized by technicians. The farmers learned in these study sessions that by alternating and rotating crops and letting the land rest for a month or two after harvest reduced the need for chemical inputs and restore soil fertility. For example, planting tomatoes between rows of eggplants and cabbages drove away worms and stemborers thus save the farmer’s eggplants and cabbages.
Defensor’s successor Gov. Niel D. Tupas, Sr. (2001-2010) continued the IPM program in partnership with the Department of Agriculture (DA). Through the lobby of the Municipality of Alimodian, Tupas introduced a “bazaar” of organic vegetables every Friday at the Capitol ground. A jeepload of vegetables was up for sale at the parking area by farmers accompanied by at least one farm technician. They had various products – tomatoes, eggplants, bananas, sayote, raddish, cauliflower, broccoli, camote and carrots, among others.
That program opened two opportunities – one, the consumers, mostly employees at the provincial capitol and the Hall of Justice, were made aware that organic farm products were available and that these were needed by the human body in the fight against diseases to include cancer and, two, it also served as income source for both the producer and the Municipality of Alimodian. It disproved fears that the organic system of managing farms was less profitable.
Leon town had a “bagsakan” at its public market for organic vegetables, one reason perhaps why its farmers did not bother to venture into the capitol ground the way their counterparts from Alimodian did.
Leon farmers who were former guerillas of the rebel New People’s Army (NPA) tapped the consultancy services of a professor from the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UPV). The university campus in the city likewise set up a Friday bazaar for organic vegetables but it was discontinued. The campus was not an ideal market. The consultant transferred venue to the parking ground of a mall but with the same result: the farmers stopped it. They already bled by more than P50,000 in rent without any assurance of recouping it.
Their last stint was at the Capitol ground alley every Friday. The spot where the former rebels set up shop attracted hordes of employees from the Hall of Justice and the Capitol. Their sale was promising. It was a rare opportunity for employees to buy healthy food at reasonable prices.
Every Friday afternoon, yours truly and Larry Locara, a planning officer who was “floated” at the provincial agriculture office since May 2004, would go down to the ground alley to buy organic vegetables and converse with the vendors who became his personal friends. Locara gave them free consultancy services on farm management in 2004 through 2008. They stopped showing up at his desk when they had the “expert” from UPV as consultant who’s advice eventually led them to the P50,000 deficit.
We miss the Leon farmers now. They no longer set up bazaar every Friday. Two weeks ago they were banned from the capitol ground for the big reason of protecting the integrity and dignity of the provincial government and its employees, whatever that means.
It was an opportunity lost: for the employees a cheap source of organically grown vegetables and the local government a big chance of putting its hands where its mouth is.
The decision to ban them from the capitol ground sends the signal that good governance and earth friendly farming don’t mix, which the good Gov. Defensor doesn’t want to happen.*