Diversity is key to resilient farms
While we were busy picking up the pieces in the aftermath of Typhoon “Ompong,” which decimated lives and livelihoods in northern Luzon, a conference looking into sustainable, long-term solutions for rice farming, not just in the Philippines, but in Asia, was able to push through in Surigao del Sur, Mindanao, attended by local and foreign participants.
Ompong’s damage to agriculture — estimated at P26.7 billion (P14.5 billion for rice and P8.1 billion for corn), affecting at least 170,000 people in the Cordilleras alone — is a reminder that the impact of climate change requires building back better farms and farming systems.
The default response of our government agencies and humanitarian organizations during such calamities has been to move certified rice and corn seeds, with widespread adaptability and of few variety, to affected communities without even matching specific community situations and preferences. The logic behind it is that seeds with wide adaptation will most likely grow and tidy over the needs of farmers for the season. But, while this arrangement has proven effective in some situations, for disastrous droughts and typhoons, these uniform varieties will be affected in the same way across vast areas, as we have seen in the fields of Cagayan with Ompong.
Uniformity across farming systems breeds vulnerability. We need diversity in our farms to build resilience to climate change, as well as for livelihood resilience.
In IFOAM Asia’s (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements in Asia) third Organic Asia Congress in Surigao, Greenpeace presented a study showing how farmers were able to tap into the spirit of bayanihan (or mutual help) during calamities from 2014 to 2016.
The Greenpeace report, “Sprouting from Disaster: Institutionalizing Farmer to Farmer Ecological Seed Response for a Sustainable and Ecological Seed and Food System in the Philippines,” details how farmer groups, supported by civil society organizations, local government units and Greenpeace, worked on an ecological seed response in 12 municipalities. Farmers were able to help their fellow farmers who were affected by storms and droughts by giving them diversified seeds.
Ecologically grown rice and vegetable seeds, starter kits for organic soil fertilization, and training on ecological farming techniques were provided during the response.
Farmers took the lead in these efforts, which should inspire government representatives to institutionalize this response and make it more widespread. By providing fellow farmers with diversified seeds that are locally adapted, culturally appropriate, and takes specific growers’ preferences into account, the journey to a more resilient farming system, as opposed to current practices, was started for those farmers in climate-impacted areas. In turn, this gave rise to more communities that now know how to build more climate-resilient farms, and are better-prepared to face future storms and droughts.
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Virginia Benosa Llorin is campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia-Philippines, tackling issues on food and agriculture.
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