OBLIQUE OBSERVATIONS

By Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

Abandon Normal Instruments – there are times when we must change the way we do things when they do not help us achieve our goals. If these supposed tried and tested methods harm us as well , this change must be done immediately…

In life we must sometimes discover the recipes we use and change them to produce better results…  
 

One of our government’s key program for boosting agricultural programs this year is its farm input subsidy. Farmers will be given the means to purchase farm inputs like fertilizers to help them increase food production. Predictably, the usual sellers of fertilizers containing inorganic or chemical elements have again approached the farmers peddling their goods and enticing the farmers with promises of bountiful harvests and magical results.
 
These fertilizers containing inorganic or chemical ingredients such as anhydrous ammonia, urea, urea-ammonium nitrate solutions, triple superphosphate, ammonium phosphates, and muriate of potash (potassium chloride) have been used by our farmers for decades. Unfortunately, there have been several studies which show that inorganic fertilizers have caused soil, air, and water pollutions through nutrient leaching, destruction of soil physical characteristics, accumulation of toxic chemicals in water bodies, and so on.
 
These inorganic fertilizers harm the very soil needed for sustainable farming. They put harmful chemicals which harm the helpful microbes present in our soils. They reduce soil fertility. They change the nature of soil, making it either too acidic or too alkaline. Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23 percent of the global land surface.
 
They help release greenhouse gases to the atmosphere which in turn contribute to environmental consequences. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report showed that our food systems are estimated to cause up to 29 percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Inorganic fertilizers are also impractical. It gets washed away by water easily. It only provides short term benefits. Plus, it is now expensive because of the highly priced imported ingredients needed to make them.
 
Most important of all, think of all those chemicals seeping into the food we grow. There are many studies which indicate that the food we eat right now may have long term health risks because of chemicals. The challenge I always give to inorganic fertilizer advocates when I meet them is, “can they eat their fertilizers?” If they cannot eat these chemicals, why do they insist we put them in the soil where our food is grown?
 
Clearly, the use of inorganic fertilizers with these chemicals, not only affect our agriculture and environment but our health as well. It is evident that we must now make radical changes in our normal farming systems.
 
In the Philippines, two key pieces of legislature were enacted to promote organic farming. Republic Act 10068 declares that the policy of the State shall be to promote, propagate, develop further and implement the practice of organic agriculture in the Philippines in order to enrich the fertility of the soil, increase farm productivity, reduce pollution and destruction of the environment and prevent the depletion of natural resources. RA 11511 amends the first law by giving more teeth to government support for organic farming and inputs.
 
Despite the clear need for organic farming, there are several challenges which face the efforts to promote this shift. Small landowner farmers often lack the financial and technical capacity to make the shift. Inorganic fertilizer is still big business and sometimes they even claim that their products are organic with creative labelling. Organic fertilizer producers need financial and capital assistance to compete with the established inorganic fertilizer producers. Inorganic fertilizers also have the advantage of having relatively faster results than organic fertilizers.
 
There is a need for the organic fertilizer industry to organize themselves to achieve common goals. The market and demand are large enough to accommodate many players in the organic farming industry. The producers also have to ensure quality and standards to compete. Lastly, they have to interact more with farmers and farmer cooperatives to inform them of the dangers of inorganic farming. By organizing themselves, the organic farming industry can coordinate properly with government agencies and avail of the programs and benefits (tax and otherwise) created to support the organic farming industry.
 
Lastly, we the consumers, must take heed of the need to support organic farming. We must make efforts to seek out organic products and shun products that are produced by inorganic farming. Businessmen must find cooperative ventures with both local and national government agencies and invest in organic farming endeavors. If there is one advantage we have over our ASEAN neighbors, it is the ability of many sectors of our society to mobilize for cooperative efforts. Perhaps, this time, we can take the lead in a multi- sectoral effort to promote organic farming and help our farmers make the shift from the normal inorganic modes of farming.
 
This is my oblique observation.

About the Columnist

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ATTY. GILBERTO LAUENGCO, J.D. is a lawyer, educator, political strategist, government consultant, Lego enthusiast, and the director of CAER Think Tank. He is a Former Vice Chairman of MECO, Special Assistant of NFA and City Administrator among others. His broad experience has molded his unique approach to issues analysis which he calls the oblique observation.