Farmers take the organic farming challenge head-on

Lily Salazar (center) with fellow farmers show off their organic products.

Story and photos by: Emme Rose Santiagudo

Gradually, farmers in Iloilo have been shifting to organic farming not only because of its promise of health benefits but because there is money in the new and challenging venture.

Alfredo Gumatico, 63, from Mandurriao, Iloilo City is a doctor by profession but is now a farmer by heart who recently shifted to organic farming.

In 2000, 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, Iloilo City and I was inspired to shift to organic and I started joining conferences and trainings on organic farming,” he said in an interview.

A decade after his shift to organic farming, Gumatico now owns a five-hectare organic farm supplying lettuce, cabbage, and other organic vegetables to private doctors and top dining restaurants in Iloilo City such as Muelle Deli and Salt.

He also owns different livestock raised the organic way such as native swine, native chicken, 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 shared.

More than the market, Gumatico said that organic farming helped him preserve his health.

“It really helped me, just look at my health. I am now 60 but I feel like I can still do so much more. If you want to stay healthy, we 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.

50-year-old Lily Salazar from Dumangas town in Iloilo province was a struggling typhoon Yolanda survivor before she was introduced to organic farming.

Now, the single mother of three is proud to say that she has a stable income from producing and processing organic and fresh oyster mushrooms.

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

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

Through training and workshop, their 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 Gumatico and Salazar are among the small chunk of farmers that are now slowly shifting to organic farming.

With no pesticides and artificial chemicals, Elias Sandig Jr., assistant department head of the Iloilo Provincial Agriculture Office explained that organic farming can guarantee farmers with reduced cost, increased income, and yield.

Through the years, Sandig said organic matter content of the soil in the province had decreased from 7 percent in the 90s to only 2 percent in the present.

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

Since 2010, Sandig said they have been aiming to convert 24,510.25 hectares or seven percent of the 350,146.30 hectares of farms to be converted into organic areas.

Currently, he said they already hit 38.8 percent of their target with 6,797.4 hectares dedicated to coconut, coffee, banana, root crops, and rice.

In the whole region, the National Organic Agriculture Program (NOAP) of DA said Western Visayas is already at 90 percent of its total target area.

“Out of the 32,231 hectares target for organic agriculture in the region, the DA-6 reported 28,976 hectares of converted area, equivalent to 89.9 percent for 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 from September 16-18, 2019.

As part of the congress, a trade fair of organic products from all over the region was organized and among the participants were Salazar and Gumatico.