Flashback to the Period of Abundance. Once upon a time, the province’s organic farming tradition was so pure and sacred. Rice being the staple food for Boholanos has been culturally implanted deeply into its way of life. Because of this, farmers’ myths and epics have not escaped the long stretch of the early artists’ imaginations so that those can be told from one generation to another over and over again. Boholano songs, dances, poetry and folklores speak eloquently of the richness of the early farming and fishing communities.
But then, in the 1960’s, the Green Revolution (GR) entered its way in the Philippines’ agriculture sector. As a result, the long-lived and best-kept farming traditions slowly vanished in the hearts of the Boholanos, giving way to the modern and “scientific” farming methods. With it, many traditional seeds were replaced by the ‘improved high yielding varieties’ (HYV’s) especially for rice. Mono cropping was introduced in the uplands along with its massive, conventional use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Spread of Green Revolution and Modern Agriculture. In the 70’s, governments’ agriculture programs were massive and forceful. Since the Philippines was under martial law at that time, government affairs cannot be questioned. Modern and scientific farming were the key words and the Green Revolution was the battle cry. In the middle of the 70’s, hundreds of Boholano young students flooded to agricultural schools like the Bohol Agricultural College (now CVSCAFT Systems Main Campus) in Bilar, because of the phenomenal promise of good future if one becomes an agriculturist. Some were privileged enough to enroll at Central Mindanao University (CMU) in Musuan, Bukidnon, or at Visayas State College of Agriculture (VISCA) in Leyte, or even UP in Los Baños. In the school, the language taught was modern and scientific farming.
High yielding varieties were introduced to the farmers’ field. This movement was very attractive causing the loss of many traditional seeds not only for rice but also for other crops such as corn, cassava and vegetables. Government programs made easy access of commercial fertilizers and certified seeds that eventually drowned the farmers into total dependence on external farm inputs. Amusingly, at first, farmers’ harvests doubled at once. Again, and again. .. until, the soils’ demand for chemical fertilizers grew higher. From one sack… to two sacks… to three and beyond…
Surprisingly, despite the seemingly attractive promise of GR that was strongly promoted by the government, Boholano farmers were driven towards debt and extreme poverty. Farmers were forced into a cycle of dependency on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and other expensive inputs which eroded soil fertility, damaged ground water and human health, and eventually decreased yields. Most farmlands became depleted and infertile worsened by the government’s total neglect of the environment. Farming conditions became problematic, almost totally losing its direction, and the farmers were unable to keep up with GR’s financial demand.
In the later part of the 70’s and the early 80’s, many traditional seeds were already lost not only for rice but also for other crops. Pests and diseases, such as armyworms and “tungro” which were non- existent before appeared, attacking crops in mass proportions. To combat such infestation, a multi-pronged program of hybrid seeds, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides flooded the market. Even a seven-year old kid can buy “parapest” or “thiodan” in ordinary stores. As government programs made it possible for commercial fertilizers, pesticides and certified seeds to be easily accessible, farmers eventually became totally dependent on these external farm inputs.
Realization, Conscientization and Sporadic Actions. In the 80’s, growing awareness and consciousness to revive traditional farming practices in Bohol was gaining momentum. It started with the Ilaw International Center (IIC), that introduced the household-based ‘bio-intensive gardening’ technology in 1982. Along with it was the formation of the “Ilaw ng Buhay Movement” in fifteen municipalities of the province. In 1984, IIC was responsible in providing environmental trainings on organic farming technologies, agro-forestry and coastal resource conservation to a group of government employees, who later on run a World Bank funded initiative called the Central Visayas Regional Project (CVRP). The CVRP likewise started the contour farming system and marine conservation initiatives in Bohol particularly in the north.
Almost in the same period, the Social Action Center (SAC) of the Diocese of Tagbilaran, in partnership with MASIPAG introduced contour farming, soil conservation and alternative medicine projects in the eastern part of the island particularly in the towns of Anda, Guindulman and Candijay, as a direct response to rehabilitate victims of typhoon “Nitang” which hit the northeastern part of the province in 1983.
On a parallel development, a Peace Corp Volunteer working for the Baptist Church in Candijay introduced “Food Always in the Home”, popularly known today by its acronym FAITH – a family-based organic vegetable raising initiative. Not so far away, in the town of Bilar, Mr. Jose Travero, a young fresh graduate and Entomology Professor of then Bohol Agricultural College (BAC), became the “voice in the wilderness” fighting an uphill battle and against all odds made possible for organic agriculture to be included into its schools’ curriculum.
In the later part of 1980’s, as an offshoot of the EDSA revolution (1986), NGO’s mushroomed and development work spread quickly. But sadly, not all of their programs were for organic farming. In fact, most NGO’s collaborated with government agriculture programs by providing loan assistance for farm inputs particularly commercial fertilizers and pesticides.
In 1987, Candijay Federation of Rural Workers (CFRW) was formed and initiated organic farming and compost fertilizer production in the town of Candijay. The group was organized by Candijay Service Center which later on in 1991 was registered as Community Awareness and Services for Ecological Concerns (CASEC), Inc. Two years later, the Visayas Community Assistance Program (VICAP), a Cebu-based NGO launched the Bohol Community Assistance Project (BOCAP) in Candijay and Guindulman. Its focused was also organic farming particularly contour farming and composting. Not long afterwards, BOCAP became an independent NGO working in Bohol until the present.
In 1989, the Department of Agriculture formally established the Farmers’ Training Center (FTC) in Bohol that served as its training arm. Although undeniably, DA was the prime initiator for GR technologies, organic farming was introduced in some of the Center’s training curricula particularly on vegetables’ bio-intensive gardening. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) then was already in the mainstream in response to the growing awareness against indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides. The Center later on stood as the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) - 7, Central Visayas.
In this year also, the Diocese of Tagbilaran was split into two giving birth to the Diocese of Talibon which has the territorial/pastoral jurisdiction over the Northern and Eastern part of Bohol. Consequently, the SA initiatives in this part of the province were taken over by SAC-Talibon until at present. The famous “humay sa Obispo” (bishop’s rice) is a by-word of the farmers that meant to identify the organic rice seeds from Masipag being distributed by SAC for varietal adaptation in the parishes of Talibon some time in the middle of the 90’s.
Consolidation of Environment Conservation Initiatives. In the early part of 1990’s, while PROCESS Bohol was already very active in the formation of peoples’ organizations in the coastal communities, the Central Visayas Farmers’ Development Center (FARDEC), launched a comprehensive Cropline Research in Central Visayas that exposed concretely the deep-rooted issues and problems of small farmers in the region’s Agrarian Economy, including Bohol’s rice, corn, cassava, and coconut industries.
In 1991, about 13 NGO’s convened to form the Bohol Alliance of Non-government Organizations (BANGON), with the hope to consolidate and unite community development initiatives. BANGON created its own Secretariat and solidified resource mobilization which resulted in accessing various projects like the Local Development Assistance Project funded by Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP), and the five-year project, Loboc Area Focused Approach (Loboc-AFA), funded by AusAID through the PACAP. The project’s primary approach was community-based resource management and sustainable livelihoods including organic farming within the Loboc River Watershed.
In 1992, Bohol Integrated Development Foundation (BIDEF) initiated a project on Sustainable Agriculture in Dagohoy, covering eight barangays. Through that project, BIDEF opened Bohol’s civil society to the national limelight of NGO alliances and networks by becoming active member of three big national NGO networks; the NGO-Coalition for Cooperative Development (NGO-CCD), the Sibol ng Agham at Technolohiya (SIBAT), and later on Coalition of Developmental Non-government Organizations (CODE-NGO).
Permaculture was introduced in Bohol’s organic movement in 1993 through the effort of Carlos Echaves of Bol-anon Foundation Inc. (BFI). The BFI initiated series of orientations and trainings which was able to invite interest of several groups and individual advocates leading to the formation of the Permaculture Institute of the Philippines- Bohol.
Meanwhile, the growing interest on sustainable agriculture and environmental protection has led further to the formation of BISAD – an effort which was spearheaded by certain individuals, the likes of: Fr. Romeo Dompor - BIDEF, Ms. Liza Migriňo - OPA, Mr. Carlos Echaves - BF, Mr. Jose Travero - BAC, Mr. Egay Dy –CASEC, and many more. Its first election was on September 23, 1994 in Ubay, Bohol, with Mr. J. Travero as its first President. This initiative signaled the formalization of the organic agriculture movement in Bohol.
In the same year, three (3) research- oriented NGO’s entered the picture in Bohol’s conservation movement. Firstly, the Soil and Water Conservation Foundation (SWCF) which made its way to the highlands of Sierra Bullones to investigate Bohol’s water reserve and the condition of its watershed. Later on, SWCF happily communed with the Eskaya tribe, and began to crop organically in the tribe’s ancestral lands. Secondly, the Haribon Foundation in partnership with Montreal University rippled in Handayan Island’s coastal waters for a Project Seahorse Conservation. Decade after, Project Seahorse spun-off from Haribon Foundation and became an independent conservationist NGO called Project Seahorse Foundation, working along with the lantern fishers in the Danajon bank area. Thirdly, the CBDC-SEARICE (Community Biodiversity Development and Conservation-Southeast Asia Research Initiative for Community Empowerment), that started the plant genetic research in Bohol. Few years later, SEARICE settled in few communities in Dagohoy and Bilar for its community-based genetic biodiversity conservation, that resulted into the first ever community seeds registry in the Municipality of Bilar.
In the same period, the first ever non- conventional marketing assistance was provided to the banana growers in Bohol. Peoples’ Fair Trade Assistance Center (PFTAC) opened its operations and started the banana marketing business of chemical free banana directly to Japan. The marketing strategy provided opportunity to the banana producers to organize themselves and directly participate in the business and share of the profit – an exercise that never occurred in the conventional mainstream market. Years later PFTAC and OPA spearheaded the creation of the Bohol Banana Council.
In 1995, volunteers launched the Bohol UP Pahinungod in the Municipalities of Balilihan, Anda and Dauis. This was where a Farmer-Scientist program was implemented through the assistance of Dr. Romulo Davide and other UP professors. In this year also, Biodynamic Farming was introduced in the already growing organic movement in Bohol through two devoted Biodynamic Farming Practitioners; Ms. Zen Darunday and Mr. Salvio Makinano. Ms. Darunday owns the CEDAR Farm in Dao, while Mr. Makinano owns the UsaP ka Farm, in Tiptip, both in Taqbilaran City.
In 1997, a group of professionals, environment conservationist groups, NGO’s, church people and students bond together and called themselves the Bohol Nature Conservation Society (BONACONSO). It became one of the strongest environmental conservation group in Bohol. In fact, BONACONSO was deeply involved in the series of workshops and planning until it was finally passed into law the landmark legislation called the Bohol Environment Code. On July 26, 1997, BONACONSO and SAC-Talibon spearheaded the biggest environmental mass protests ever in Bohol that happened in the town of Inabanga. The protest rally was meant to block the controversial Bohol-Cebu Water Deal or the selling of water from Wahig-Inabanga River to Cebu City. Since then, the deal was never been talked about in public.
Towards the end of the 90’s, Organic Farming was already in the mainstream of Bohol’s development initiatives. Established NGO’s like PROCESS-Bohol, Feed the Children Philippines, World Vision, UBCDFI, among others, became known as organic agriculture implementers. It was also in this period that Mr. Ruben Balistoy, a former rebel opened and operated the Purple Life Farms (PLF) in Taloto, Tagbilaran City – the first ever organic free-range chicken farm in Bohol. Established in April 1999, PLF aimed at firming up the viability of the enterprise and sought to gain experience and achieve enough capability towards full commercial production .
Specifically, in 1999 BISAD was reactivated from a short period of lull, probably because everybody was busy doing each own and nobody cared for collectivity. Mr. Ruben Balistoy was elected the new President. This time it comprises more than forty members from various groups, such as: non-government organizations; local government line agencies; national government agencies; academic institutions; private/individual farm owners; peoples’ organizations; cooperatives; church-based organizations; etc.. On this period, BISAD started the organic marketing business (organic tabo); organic congresses, and the organic fertilizer (bokashi) production business in partnership with the City of Tagbilaran. They undertook various forms of advocacies and lobbying which included the eventual signing into law the landmark legislation GMO-Free ordinance.
From then on, BISAD become the legendary symbol and proof that organic agriculture movement is very much alive in the province of Bohol.
Organic Agriculture Mainstreaming. Towards year 2000, organic agriculture mainstreaming was already on its full swing. Major activities were launched which were spearheaded by BISAD in partnership with various institutions like the OPA, ATI, the Academe, SEARICE, PFTAC and several other interest groups and individuals.
• Ubi Festival was launched giving way to the birth of Bohol Ubi Center Foundation, Inc. (BUCFI). An annual ubi festival every January also became a regularly celebrated activity. Organic ubi growing became the main thrust in promoting ubi culture among ubi farmers in Bohol.
• SAC-Talibon in collaboration with MASIPAG started rice variety trials in 12 Parishes and succeeded in propagating, distribution and monitoring 25 traditional rice varieties to the parishioners.
• SEARICE, in partnership with CVSCAFT main campus, successfully pushed for the establishment of Bilar as the province’s “Rice Sanctuary”, and finally put into law and installed in the Municipality the Community Seed Registry. The Community Seedbank was also established and maintained at the CVSCAFT campus.
• Bohol Provincial LGU initiated SuOAP (Sustainable Organic Agriculture Program) which resulted to 4,600 households into backyard gardening in 5 municipalities and 33 barangays. In support for the program the province allocated P1M that resulted to the establishment of Municipal Organic Agriculture Programs; 223 organic farmers to a total of 171.6 hectares.
• ATI-7 consolidated its community-based initiatives by forming CASABUT-OFS - an organic farmers alliance in Maribojoc whose accomplishments became the subject of many study tours by studying farmers and organic practitioners. ATI-7 also initiated the “school-in-the-air” classes which gained popularity not only by farmers but also implementers.
• Development of the 33 standards Bohol Internal Guarantee System for organic product certification.
Challenges of the Organic Movement. For almost three decades, BISAD as a movement was always confronted with challenges big and small; some permanent, some temporary. To say the least, here are some of those urgent: 1) A cohesive group of NGOs, GOs, NGAs, POs promoting organic agriculture following the principles of Sustainable Agriculture; 2) A paradigm shift from technocratic to farmer-centered, knowledge development approach in implementing Sustainable Agriculture; 3) Mainstreaming of gender equity in the farming sector; 4) Rural Industrialization based on culturally and environmentally rooted livelihoods and modes of production; 4) Sustainable development anchored on deep respect for nature and clear understanding on the complexities of ecosystems and the balance of ecology.