Iloilo organic farms take root amid burgeoning health market

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Produce at the regional organic congress in Iloilo. -- EMME ROSE SANTIAGUDO

By Emme Rose S. Santiagudo

FARMERS in Iloilo have been shifting to organic farming, with growers being gradually sold on the challenging method’s health benefits and potential for charging more for their produce.

Alfredo O. Gumatico, a 63-year-old doctor from Mandurriao, Iloilo City is one of those who have made the switch to organic farming.

In 2000, Mr. Gumatico started with a small-scale vegetable operation but was inspired to go organic after a visit to a farm in Jaro, Iloilo City.

“I started farming in 2000 but it was not yet organic. Then, I saw this farm somewhere in Jaro and I was inspired to shift to organic and I started joining conferences and training sessions on organic farming,” he told BusinessWorld.

A decade after his shift to organic farming, Mr. Gumatico owns a five-hectare organic operation supplying lettuce, cabbage, and other organic vegetables to his network of doctors as well as restaurants in Iloilo City.

He also raises livestock organically, including native swine and chickens, ducks, and goats.

“I encountered difficulties. There were failures every now and then because of the weather. Once all my 25 native pigs died due to bad weather. But I kept on going and I never gave up, and now my native pigs are pregnant,” he said.

Mr. Gumatico said that organic farming also helped preserve his health.

“It really helped me, particularly in look after my health. I am now 60 but I feel like I can still do so much more. If you want to stay healthy, you really need to change our lifestyle and I think through organic farming you will have the organic way and natural way of being healthy,” he shared.

Lily D. Salazar, 50, from Dumangas in Iloilo province was a struggling Yolanda survivor before she was introduced to organic farming.

The single mother of three said she has a stable income from producing and processing fresh oyster mushrooms organically.

“I am really happy and thankful to the government because now I have a stable income for my three children despite being a housewife,” she said.

Ms. Salazar is a member of the Dumangas-Barotac Mushroom Growers and Processors Association.

Through training and workshops, the association has been assisted by the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Office (DA-RFO) 6 through the DA-Rice Program Community-Based Mushroom Project (CBMP).

Both Mr. Gumatico and Ms. Salazar are among the minority of farmers that are committing to organic farming.

Without the use of pesticides and artificial chemicals, Elias V. Sandig Jr., assistant department head of the Iloilo Provincial Agriculture Office said organic farming can reduce farmers’ costs and revive the soil, making it more productive.

“Due to the decrease in organic matter, the capacity of our soil to hold water and fertilizer had been decreasing and as a result, the farmers have lower yields. Moreover, conventional fertilizer has been greatly affecting our soil by killing microbes and the earthworms,” he said.

Since 2010, Mr. Sandig said that the department has set a target of 24,000 hectares to be converted to organic farms.

Currently, he said the conversion target has been 38% achieved with 6,800 hectares of mostly coconut, banana, and rice now planted organically.

Region wide, the DA’s National Organic Agriculture Program (NOAP) estimates that the Western Visayas are now at nearly 90% of the program’s target.

“Out of the 32,231 hectares target for organic agriculture in the region, the DA in Region 6 reported 28,976 hectares of converted area equivalent to 89.9% as of the first quarter of 2019,” Julian Nicole Garcia, project assistant 3 of the DA national office said.

To further promote the organic industry in the region and the province of Iloilo, DA-RFO 6 conducted the Regional Organic Agriculture Congress at Casa Real de Iloilo on Sept. 16–18.

Among the participants were Ms. Salazar and Mr. Gumatico were participants at the trade fair organized alongside the congress.