There’s a growing interest in agroecology among farmers, food producers and consumers in the Philippines. Even as the term itself has yet to gain popularity among Filipinos, many are seeking solutions to the climate and food crises that are being felt more and more intensely—solutions they can partake of and promote to others in earnest.
Such was the timeliness of the Agroecology Fair 2019, organised by Synergy for Sustainable Development, Inc. and participated in by PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP). Held last December 1 at the Quezon City Memorial Circle, the Agroecology Fair was a space to introduce agroecology to a wider public through talks, cultural performances, and a market for organic produce, plant-based food, and local handicrafts.
In her opening remarks, Eufemia Cullamat, a Manobo and a representative of the Philippine Congress, underscored the importance of agroecology to indigenous peoples. “The movement for agroecology emerged in light of the worsening crisis of conventional farming. We are showing that there is a different path to progress, a path that is more sustainable. To achieve the social change that we want, we must also change the economic system that ties us to chemical-intensive farming. Agroecology is a way of life for us, because we depend on land for everything,” she said.
For instance, among those exhibited at the Agroecology Fair were the upland rice varieties of the indigenous Lumad school ALCADEV. However, the Lumad who are defending their ancestral lands are under currently attack by the military because of mining interests that threaten to destroy their way of life—a way of life that involves a wealth of agroecological practices.
Terence Lopez, PANAP’s Agroecology Campaign Officer, explained that in the most basic sense, agroecology is a way of farming that imitates the biodiversity of nature and is based on the knowledge of communities. As an alternative food system based on social justice, he emphasised that agroecology is also necessarily a form of resistance to the corporate control of agriculture.
However, he warned of attempts by big corporations to coopt agroecology. “TNCs are now marketing organic versions of their produce—but for what and for whom are these for? We must claim agroecology and ensure the perspective of farmers, indigenous peoples, and women. Especially since we are at the point where food producers themselves are growing hungry” Lopez said.
Selling their wares at the Agroecology Fair were women farmers from Norzagaray, Bulacan who are defending their lands from landgrabbing and practicing collective farming. Their produce were organic native fruits, vegetables, and rootcrops—a diverse and nutritious array that include purple yam, sweet potato, papaya, pomelo, banana, moringa, spinach, alugbati, etc.
With the Rice Tariffication Law devastating local agriculture with the influx of cheap imports, it becomes more important than ever for farmers to diversify food crops and decrease reliance on chemical inputs. Groups such as the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines) have also been helping them cut out profiteering traders by linking them directly to consumers, all the while lobbying for government support to domestic agriculture.
For peasant leader Rafael Mariano, agroecology is an important aspect of the movement for land reform and food sovereignty. “Farmers have been made dependent on chemical inputs and commercial seeds, which bury them further into debt. Agroecology is not only beneficial for health and the environment. It helps farmers uplift their livelihoods and become self-sufficient and resilient, especially with the onslaught of extreme weather conditions brought about by climate change,” he said.
Right now, majority of Filipino farmers are suffering—a fact made evocative by a performance by theater artist Edwin Quinsayas. His dance illustrated how farming, for most farmers, is a gamble that they largely lose, while big agro-corporations make a killing by converting farmlands into monoculture plantations.
The Agroecology Fair showcased the importance of food that is based on local plant biodiversity. Health communication expert Nona Andaya-Castillo talked about the benefits of a plant-based diet, and told of nutritious Philippine plants that are often overlooked in preparing daily meals. Dr. Junn Lapitan introduced the benefits of kaong or the fruit of the sugar palm tree, which is abundant in the Philippines.
Meanwhile, artists’ group SAKA and feminist book publisher Gantala Press held cooking demos using ingredients that are low-cost and can be grown in your own backyard (such as sweet potato tops). Gantala Press has published a recipe book for plant-based sauces and dishes, Makisawsaw. The book, which advocates for the use of locally-grown ingredients, was inspired by the strike of the exploited workers of the condiments giant NutriAsia (part of the book’s proceeds goes to the workers).
PANAP, meanwhile, gave out its various publications and informational materials on the effects of toxic pesticides across the Asia Pacific region, and the urgent need for a global shift to agroecology. People also signed our ongoing petition to end corporate control of agriculture by agrochemical TNCs. The Agroecology Fair linked food producers and consumers not just around good food and fresh produce, but around the living practice and concept of agroecology. The organisers and several participants of the event, including PANAP, are thinking of how to make it into a regular affair to serve a Filipino public that is growing increasingly conscious of how food should be produced and consumed.