Q&A with Gil Carandang

The fact that he is known as the Father of Organic Farming here in the Philippines, Mr. Gil Carandang deserves an interview as to what organic farming is all about and how it could benefit the people.

A fearless advocate of Organic way of farming, he answers challenging questions that we figured out conventional farmers would throw on him.

How did you get into Farming?

Farming? Been into farming in the early 1970’s sugarcane and vegetable truck gardening. But only in the mid 1990’s organic farming. At that time, I was still living in the US. You know, it is what they call “mid-life crisis”. I started to ask: “Is there anything better to do, and more meaningful than a 9-5 job?” At that time, the environmental movement is pretty loud and popular. So instead of “go save the owls, plant a tree”, I picked organic farming. I decided to take a workshop in organic farming by the bay area in San Francisco (Willits, California), and attended seminar-workshop of John Jeavons, proponent of “Biointensive” mini-farming.

What made you choose farming as your career?

After the said seminar-workshop, all the participants were asked: “How do you see yourself in the next 10 years?” I said, will transfer what I have learned to others, especially the Filipinos when I return home to the Philippines. Thus, this career direction, is the path to sustainability – organic farming.

Why organic farming?

Organic farming does not use poisons. It enhances our degrading environment. It creates a “living soil”. It creates life not “death and destruction”.

How about natural farming?

Even before, we, Organic Producers and Trade Association of the Philippines (OPTA) brought Dr. Han Ryu Cho of the Korean Natural Farming Association in the Philippines’ agricultural setting; I have already read the book “One Straw Revolution”, and met the author Masonabu Fukuoka, a farmer-philosopher of natural farming that influenced my direction to natural farming. This pretty much set the philosophical foundation of natural farming for me. Together with it, is my exposure to the EM technology (Effective Microorganisms) of Dr. Higa. Unfortunately, EM technology is not an open technology. Indigenous Microorganisms (IMO) technology I learned from Dr. Cho (I attended 3 of his Philippine workshops) is what really brought me deeper into the world of microbes used effectively in agriculture.

What’s the difference between organic and natural farming?

There is really not much difference in organic and natural farming in essence, for both approaches respect the natural systems. I guess natural farming is more profound in its natural point of views and very specific in lots of its natural approaches to farming. In fact, my friend Steve Diver (ATTRA) used to say that natural farming is quite similar to Biodynamic farming of the West. Sometimes, I say organic farming refers to “organic matter”, deliberate farming of organic matter like composting, non-usage of chemical inputs, non-GMO, etc.

Natural farming is more profound in using models based on natural systems mimicry. But really in essence, the very specific focus of most schools of thought of natural farming (there is at least 13 schools of thought in Japan alone) is the focus on the role of microorganisms in farming- in basic problem of the farmer which is soil fertility, pests and diseases. The study of beneficial microorganisms is central to most of the natural farming schools of thought, two of which most popular are Dr. Higa’s EM and Dr. Cho’s IMO.

I may say that sustainable agriculture is interpreted in the West as Organic farming or even Biodynamic farming, while in the East, it is referred to Natural farming.

Why Organic and Natural Farming rather than conventional farming?

Organic and natural farming respect life. It enhances the soil, rather than degrades it. It creates life rather than death. Really the soil, is the basis of life. As my mentor John Jeavons would say: “the first 3-6 inches of the land is what keep us alive”. This is the layer of the land where we effectively grow our food. Organic and natural farming enhances the soil, while conventional farming degrades the soil with the use of chemicals among others.

What can you say about the state of Organic and Natural Farming in the Philippines?

I am very bullish about organic and natural farming in the Philippines. It has gone a long way since. I project, it shall be mainstream in a couple of years. Historically, in the US and Europe, organic became a mainstream because of 2 things: 1) government support; 2) produce placement in the supermarkets.

In the Philippines, we now have the organic law, RA 10068, the organic act of 2010. The implementing rules and regulations (IRR) has been crafted and shall be “institutionalized” come 2015. More people are getting more conscious and concerned about food safety and health. And more so, people are now getting more “politicized” by the degrading environment of which one of the major culprits is conventional agriculture. Organic and natural farming is here. It shall be the norm of the future. We have no choice but to follow the path of sustainability. Conventional agriculture is not sustainable, organic and natural farming is.

Just a follow-up question, what can you say about the Government’s stand on these?

The government stand is very clear. With the passage of the law, RA10068, the government now allows another alternative farming system like organic farming available to the farmers. It has allocated some budget for its promotion in the country. It is the start, the beginning towards the path of sustainability.

Do you think Organic or Natural farming has a future here in the Philippines? What are the challenges and possible solutions?

I hate to hear the question if there is a future for organic or natural farming in the Philippines. Organic and natural farming is the future! As I always say: “Whether you like it or not, the norm of the future is organic and natural. We have no choice; it is the only logical path. There is no more ideology of the left, the right and the middle. There is only one ideology, and it is the ideology of the environment. Organic and natural farming is sustainable agriculture. The path to sustainable food systems is the path for our survival”.

Challenges and solutions? Status quo will always try to remain. I remember, a professor in Benguet State University mentioned several years ago that chemicals worth in excess of Php 500 million is being dumped, and used in the La Trinidad valley every year. Sometimes, you can smell the chemicals as you walk through the strawberry fields! It is the greatest challenge. But times are changing, global warming is real. We need to change our attitudes and ways of how we grow food. Seventy percent of modern ailments are directly or indirectly can be attributed to the food that we eat. Modern food is so much laced with chemicals and GMO’s. When people’s mind change and start to value not just human but environmental health, then people will start to see the value of clean safe food. And this will be the beginning of the market demand. Thus, we need to create more ecological farmers to provide sustainable foods for the consuming public. This is the greatest challenge and opportunity.

Being the Father of Organic Farming in the Philippines, what are your advocacies and what advise can you give to those who want to follow your footsteps?

I always say that each and every one of us should learn how to grow our own food. One day, it will save your life. I have always advocated for people to follow the path of sustainable agriculture, be a farmer or support the organic farmers. Just I remember one of my colleagues in University of California Santa Cruz would say: “I buy organic. Every time I buy organic, I make a political statement. This is how I want to spend my dollars, in support of farmers who take care of the environment, who are concerned about my health and the health of the environment”. After all, our advocacy is really not in service of humanity but in service of Nature. If we take care of Nature, Nature shall take care of us.

My advice is simple: “Be part of the solution to our degrading environment”. Be an active participant in healing the Earth through sustainable agriculture – organic and natural farming. BE AN ORGANIC FARMER. OR SUPPORT THE ORGANIC FARMERS. Follow the path of sustainability!

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