Mindanao is tainted with a not so ideal reputation due to incidences of war and terrorism. A travel ban in the region is also in effect for foreigners. But this did not stop me together with 20 other advocates of the organic movement to travel around Mindanao and learn how organic agriculture is practiced there.
We represented our respective countries namely China, Taiwan, India, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, Indonesia, Philippines, Argentina, and the UK to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)-Asia Organic Youth Forum which is part of the 3rd Organic Asia Congress.
The pre-forum activities included field trips where we got to see firsthand the efforts being done by individuals, organizations, and local government units (LGU) in promoting the organic movement. One impressive initiative is the “From Arms to Farms” project of Mayor Rommel C. Arnado which transformed the Municipality of Kauswagan from a depressed ghost town and war zone to what it is now, a barometer of peace. A Bogota Peace Prize and Galing Pook awardee, the project trains rebel returnees to become organic farmers which Mayor Arnado believes addresses hunger, poverty, and the issue of land grabbing considered as the root causes of violence in the area.
Another simple yet impactful project is the setting up of a farmer’s market in Cagayan de Oro led by Governor Bamby Emano of the Province of Misamis Oriental. Farmers can sell their naturally grown produce every Friday at the market without paying any fee. The LGU also provides transportation support.
The farms and the organic practitioners we met were likewise very inspiring. Alomah’s Nature Farm in Dahilayan, Bukidnon managed by the couple Benjohn and Grace Mahistrado showcases beautifully landscaped vegetable gardens. They have mastered diversifying and value-adding as they sell vegetable salad, vinaigrette dressing, and herb tea on top of turning their farm into a learning site and a tourist destination.
A visit to the biodynamic family farm of Vic Tagupa located at Dumarait, Balingasag gave us a glimpse of a philosophical and spiritual approach to organic farming. Considered as a model of a climate-resilient farm, the 1.44-hectare land is surrounded by a perimeter buffer dike planted with nitrogen-fixing trees, banana, and fruit trees which serve as defense against flooding and contamination from synthetic fertilizers being applied in nearby farms.
In the Municipality of Talisayan, Maristella Rallos wants to make farming sexy. Her passion towards nature motivated her to start organic farming which in two years’ time has turned the bare land into what she calls now as VS Project, a space where she gets to try out good practices in farming.
School gardens in Bislig City was a delight to see especially knowing how children are exposed to organic agriculture at an early age. Interestingly, a lot of the youth from the cities and municipalities we’ve been to are motivated to practice farming the organic way.
During the forum proper, we learned about best practices and experiences of young farmers, advocates, and organic pioneers. We also had the chance to interact with the local youth of Bislig.
The whole experience has been wonderful. I gained so much insights and is encouraged by all the brilliant stories and sharing. All I have is gratitude for the heartwarming hospitality of the LGUs, the hard work demonstrated by the organizers, and the friendship gained from like-minded people.
Cheers to a bright future for the organic movement in the country and in Asia!