By Ron F. Jabal
Food security in the Philippines remains an elusive dream. Despite numerous programs and projects to address food supply deficiencies, Filipinos remain food insecure.
A recent study by the World Food Program finds that one out of 10 households in the Philippines is food insecure and the poorest regions have been more affected by food insecurity.
Based on a survey it conducted last year, the three most food insecure regions — the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), and Regions VIII and XII — are among the seven poorest regions in the Philippines. The BARMM, which is the poorest region in the country, is the only area that recorded food insecurity levels above 30%.
Interestingly, households that rely on agricultural livelihoods are also significantly more food insecure. About a quarter of agricultural households are food insecure, compared to only 9% for non-agricultural households. As more agricultural households reported reduced incomes, they are more likely to resort to coping strategies to address food insecurity.
And food security will never be achieved if we continue to mismanage the agriculture sector in the country — which continues to be rocked by a series of controversies these days — no thanks to lack of solid leadership from government.
While the issue of the day is focused on the high prices of agricultural products due to lack of supplies (both real and imagined), there is a need to review a lingering problem that is a major roadblock to our dream of food security. And that is the continuing degradation and erosion of arable land in the country. Several studies have shown that land erosion is being experienced in several major provinces in the country. Alarming levels of soil erosion are being experienced in, among other provinces: Cebu (close to 387,000 hectares), Bohol (close to 272,000 hectares), Batangas (close to 263,000 hectares), and Abra (close to 259,000 hectares). Twenty-two other provinces have reported high soil erosion rates.
Thus, it has become imperative for government to push for the adoption of a holistic approach to farming that aims to rebuild and replenish soil, rather than degrading it. This method of farming has been gaining attention in recent years as it offers a number of benefits for farmers, the environment, and consumers alike. It is time for the National Government and private sector to work hand in hand to adopt regenerative agriculture as a major thrust to help achieve food security in the Philippines.
Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health, with attention also paid to water management, fertilizer use, and more. It is a method of farming that improves the resources it uses rather than destroying or depleting them.
The key to regenerative agriculture is that it does not harm the land but improves it, using technologies that regenerate and revitalize the soil and the environment. It leads to healthy soil that is capable of producing high quality, nutrient dense food while simultaneously improving, rather than degrading land, and, ultimately, leading to productive farms and healthy communities and economies. It is a dynamic and holistic, incorporating permaculture and organic farming practices, including conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, composting, mobile animal shelters and pasture cropping, to increase food production, farmers’ income, and, especially, topsoil.
According to the World Economic Forum, the practice of regenerative farming is gaining momentum in several parts of the globe. In Australia, regenerative farmer Neils Olsen is one such example, said the forum. He is the first farmer in the world to be paid through a government system to sequester soil carbon. Olsen’s system involves planting a mixture of crops and grazing plants — like pulses and grasses — in strips in the same field, to increase soil nutrients, yield, and soil carbon.
Meanwhile, in Brazil, cotton farmers are planting second and third vegetable crops, including sesame, pumpkin, and corn, alongside their main cotton crop. They are also using organic alternatives to chemical fertilizers. Their cotton yield has tripled in the two crops since they started, while yields of the other crops have grown as much as seven times, according to conservation news site, Mongabay. Other regenerative farming examples include farmers in Tanzania, East Africa, growing beans, bananas, and maize alongside commercial crops such as cardamom.
While the Philippines is slow in adopting this farming mindset and technique, there is a glimmer of hope with the participation of huge multinational firms that are promoting regenerative agriculture in the country.
Leading the pack is a global coffee company that is working closely with farming communities, national and local government, social development agencies, and other agriculture partners to promote a comprehensive regenerative agriculture model that protects the three key resources of any agricultural system: soil, water, and biodiversity.
This multinational firm has been imparting Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in coffee production to farmers and introducing them to regenerative farming principles that will help make coffee-growing more sustainable — a crucial step in achieving resiliency against the threat of climate change. It has been reported that this coffee giant intends to invest over one billion Swiss francs by 2030 to provide farmers with training, technical assistance, and high-yielding coffee seedlings to help them transition to regenerative coffee farming practices.
A global consumer company in the Philippines is also helping promote regenerative agriculture practices among Filipino farmers. It has started working with a wide variety of stakeholders on targeted programs to implement the practices while protecting, conserving, and restoring natural ecosystems. Many of the crops relevant to the company’s savory, dressings, and ice cream categories in the Philippines are sourced locally and sustainably. These include tamarind, gherkins, taro, mango, and coconut, among others. It said that farms producing sampalok (tamarind), a key ingredient in one of its products, have fully integrated the company’s Sustainable Agriculture Code in its operations.
Yet another example of successful adoption of regenerative agriculture is being practiced by one of the world’s leading vertically integrated producers, distributors, and marketers of fresh and fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. The company’s land-use practices have been mainly aimed at improving plantation yield through ecologically friendly land preparation, use of sustainable planting materials, plant disease management, chemical application, and efficient water sourcing and drainage.
Indeed, we cannot over emphasize the value of regenerative agriculture in the achievement of food security. It is a form of resiliency that should be part of the government agenda working hand in hand with the private sector — but also be part of the agenda of all. Regenerative agriculture should be considered a demandable right by everyone if we were to attain the elusive dream of food security in the Philippines.
Ron F. Jabal, APR, is the chairman and CEO of PAGEONE Group (www.pageonegroup.ph) and founder of Advocacy Partners Asia