Warren Guasis Tan: A New Breed for Sustainable Farming Innovations

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On Warren Tan’s close encounter with the local farmers, he cited that not one sustainable farming system could feed the Filipino people but the combination of two or more depending on what is basic and essential to a certain type of farm and the farmers’ resources.

In an interview with him, he talks no end about his journey into farming, his views on sustainable farming systems and the issues that come along with it despite his previous work experiences and his educational background.

Farmers Notebook: Can you tell us about your career, if you don’t mind?

Warren Tan: I got a degree in IT (Information Technology) and had been working with multinational companies in Sales and Marketing Department of the Concepción Industries, and Credit and Collection Supervisor in Center of Communication and Information, Inc.. In short, I’d been with the corporate world. At present, I am into Farm consultancy and conducting seminars on Sustainable Agriculture.

FN: You said you are an IT grad, and been into Sales and Marketing, then what leads you into farming?

WT: It was when I was given a break to host at Agrilink and I witnessed Mr. Gil Carandang’s seminar on Organic Farming and his discussion made me curious about it. Out of curiosity, I decided to study organic farming under Mr, Gil Carandang – the Father of Organic Farming of the Philippines. Then I attended the seminars on Natural Farming of Andry Lim – Father of Natural Farming; Quantum Agriculture under Pam Henares of Los Baños Laguna; and Bio-Char of Greg Forbes.

Quantum Agriculture is also used in farming that deals about the energy flow around the farm, and Biochar is another kind of farming technology that is used to amend and build soil fertility long term.

I have also attended the 7-day seminar about Korean Organic Farming of Dr. Cho when he was here in Manila a few years back.

But before that, my mother’s death in 2006 due to cancer has given me more reason to go into farming. I searched and studied the disease and I found out that 98% of the human population has cancers in them. And what triggers cancer? Only two reasons: it is either from the genes or from the food that we eat or both.

Most of the food that we eat today is no longer real food, only 3% is real food, and the 97% is already synthetic. Meat for example most especially those processed meats, and even the rice we eat today is laced with harmful chemicals that poison our body. Food is supposed to nourish the body but what happens now? Safe food is disappearing. So, I decided to go back to the basics of farming.

FN: In your farm, what sustainable farming technology or system do you practice?

WT: Well, I am not a purist. I can be into organic, natural, quantum or biodynamic farming, which means all are under sustainable farming agriculture. I am not focused on just one farming system but a fusion of these farming systems. From these, I was able to develop one farming technology which is Integrated acropolis for urban farming. I also named my farming system as Integrated Progressive Sustainable Farming.

Here in the Philippines, most of the farmers who are into Organic farming would advocate on applying the technology to plants or vegetables first. In my case, going organic with animals should be the first thing to do when starting a farm because animal manure is rich in nitrogen that are needed by most plants.

In my farm, I raised animals first, mostly birds. I have hogs before but after a typhoon, I stopped raising them. Another thing is, the roads to my farm are still not feasible for hogs transport- there’s no right of way yet, but I am planning to bring it back, maybe later on.

Do you remember the spring on the other side of the farm that I was telling you? It was not there before. It lately sprang up because of the many trees in that area. Tibig however played a major role to that water source. Tibig trees can release thousands of liters of water per year and I make sure that water source are abundant, and that’s energized water much needed by both plants and animals.

If the farm is very dry, you can make a water reservoir by planting Tibig trees near it and wait for two to three years. Yes, 3 years, because in planting a tree, you really have to invest time on that.

Since the farm is still on its early stage of development and is biodiverse, I let nature takes its role on the decomposition of all organic matters around the farm like those santol fruits being left rotten on the ground, the leaves, the twigs etc, and organic fertilizers from the birds, turkeys, chicken and ducks manure. Nature is also at work in atmospheric fertilization with Madre de Cacao emitting atmospheric nitrogen and the atmospheric minerals like boron around the farm also help maintain healthy crops and livestock.

FN: As a Farm consultant, what farm projects do you consider successful?

WT: The one in Tondo, Manila. At 1,000 square meters, we can harvest 1,500 chickens every 2 months, 2,500 fish every 3 months, 30 pigs every 4 months and can harvest 100 to 300 kilos of vegetables and fruits every month. We also have a laboratory, a mini-solar house and a function room in that farm.

Another one is in Antipolo that supplies organic chicken to Healthy Options with a profit of not less than a hundred pesos per chicken.

Present project is in Bustos Bulacan, the Daily Bread Farm and Healing Resort. This is the first almost complete demo-farm because of its  rice field aside from the fish ponds, the herbs and vegetable gardens, the ruminants and its facilities.

FN: What can you say about farmers who may want to venture into organic or natural farming?

WT: If we do farming, we have to decide whether it’s purely a hobby or a business. If it’s a hobby, even if it won’t gain any profit, it’s ok- not a problem. But if your goal is for a business, then you have to really be serious about it. Before you start farming, know what to farm and find out first where to market your products.

Don’t experiment. Why? It can deplete your fund. If you fail to apply the farming technologies the correct way, you’ll end up bankrupt. So do it right from the start.

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself if your farm is still profitable, if it is, then your farm is sustainable.

FN: You have mentioned that most farmers who tried organic and natural farming failed and lost their money to it, is that because of the expensive Standard Organic Certification?

WT: It’s not only about the organic certification but also about profitability and sustainability. As I’ve said, many got bankrupt because of experimentation. Many farmers has turned their backs and shifted into their usual farming practices believing organic or natural farming is not doable and not profitable.

Here in the Philippines, only 40% is into Organic farming, and 60% of the farmers are into Natural farming. Most of those who have tried organic, natural and other sustainable farming types got discouraged eventually after failing on farm business and not meeting their expectations.

Why are these things happening? Mr. Gil Carandang had been advocating it for 30 years, and Andry Lim for 25 years now, and yet, why it’s still the same?

Profitability is the number one issue. For me, one sustainable farming system alone could not work in terms of profitability and sustainability. That is why we are trying to correct this by improving it through the combination of different types of sustainable farming systems so that the integration of these types of sustainable farming could bring profit to the farmer and his farm be sustainable.

FN: How about the issue if organic agriculture could feed the Filipino people, if not the world?

WT: It is possible, but it’s is even more possible if all help one another. It’s should not Organic agriculture alone but with the help of other farming systems like Natural, Quantum, Permaculture, and Biodynamic systems which are all under Sustainable Agriculture.

A table supported with four or more legs can stand stronger compared to a table with only a leg to support it.

FN: Any message for farmers especially to the younger generation?

WT: Respect the farmers. Embrace sustainable farming and be proud of it because it is where healthy good food comes from.

 

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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