Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative Agriculture
Organic System of Rice Intensification (SRI)

Saturday, July 2, 2016

There is no Hard-Reset or Factory Reset for the Environment

The locals, with the help of the local government in the town of Mabini, Batangas, Philippines, were trying to bury the         dead, finned whale shark that was found floating near one of the dive sites, February 26, 2010 (Peri Paleracio/Marine Photobank.)

Unfortunately, we all have to deal with outcome of our actions and there is no hard-reset or factory-reset button we can just hit to be able to undo the damage which our action or inaction has caused in our environment.   To place our arms around this problem would be overwhelming and the scope of the problem is so wide that one doubts whether one's actions to help can make a difference or have an impact.

The Organic System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method of rice cultivation uses 90% less seeds, 50% less water and has the potential for yields greater than conventionally cultivated rice plants,  Add to this that Organic SRI uses no chemicals or synthetic fertilizers or poisons and you have taken the first step towards rehabilitating our soils.  As farmers adopt organic SRI, the soils they practice on will slowly over time gain back the biodiversity they lost as a result of the continued use of chemicals and poisons.  This seemingly small and singular act of reviving our soils has a much bigger impact to our planets well being .

   Organic SRI Rice Plants in Zarraga, Iloilo, Philippines 2012

The continued use of chemicals and poisons on our soils has wiped out soil biodiversity and while  farmers try to engage the problem of decreasing yields by adding even more synthetic fertilizers into our soils, the lamentable degradation of soil quality and eradication of soil biodiversity is only hastened by our impulsive efforts to attain food self-sufficiency and make profits using input-intensive agricultural practices.

The complexity of this global problem can be more easily dissected if we were to focus on one sole actor in this complicated and complex web of interactions. That is our soils.

    Bokashi produced in Zarraga, Iloilo, Philippines, 2015

It is well known that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) (and other greenhouse gases) have increased markedly as a result of human activity since the industrial revolution. It is perhaps less appreciated that natural and managed soils are an important source and sink for atmospheric CO2 and that, primarily as a result of the activities of soil microorganisms, there is a soil-derived respiratory flux of CO2 to the atmosphere that overshadows by tenfold the annual CO2 flux from fossil fuel emissions. Therefore small changes in the soil carbon cycle could have large impacts on atmospheric CO2 concentrations -

If we only made ourselves soil-aware, then we will perhaps think twice before we do anything which would affect our soils adversely.

The Chemical Breed of Agriculturists and Farmers

The introduction of synthetic and chemical fertilizers and other agricultural poisons has created three generations of what we may now call the chemical-breed of farmers and agricultural experts.  You cannot be an expert Municipal Agricultural Officer or Extension worker unless you are well versed with what chemicals to recommend to farmers seeking assistance because their rice plants are infested with Brown Plant Hopper or Green Leaf Hoppers or Stemborers  or have Bacterial Leaf Blight or Rice Blast.  Through no fault of their own, they have been made to believe in a system of agriculture which addresses problems or potential problems with a litany of chemical solutions.  That this has now become the convention for  more than five decades has correspondingly developed a breed of farmers who have institutionalized the religious use of these chemicals in our farms and this culture is now so entrenched that it will take a miracle of awakening and hopefully not a catastrophic global event to have them change their ways.

But with the higher intensity typhoons, floods and intense El Nino events happening and affecting our farming systems, I have heard the farmers acknowledge the fact that climate change and global warming has indeed come to fore and these climate change events are now affecting their farms and their yields.

But who would have predicted that the "Green Revolution" would have such a global effect on our weather systems and our environment.    It is only now that we are slowly being made aware that the destruction of our soils' biodiversity is indeed affecting the once known to be "stable" carbon cycle of our planet.   Though we all knew that continued use of chemicals and poisons in our farms would destroy the microbes and microorganisms, we had no way of knowing that the microbe populations in the rhizosphere were major actors in our planet's carbon sequestration dynamics and that our soils are  instrumental in keeping climate change events at bay.

Transforming these chemical-breed of agricultural experts and farmers into regenerative agriculture agents and practitioners is one other seemingly potent solution for this problem.  But countless millions have been invested by the Department of Agriculture on training, knowledge tours, seminars, site and field visits and even organic agriculture projects yet the percentage of adopters has remained low and not yet enough to be able to help in attaining the Department's goals to convert five percent of all agricultural land in the Philippines to organically cultivated agricultural areas.

    SRI trained farm workers in Zarraga, Iloilo, Philippines

The list of why there is such a low rate of adoption and even why there is a high incidence of dis-adoption is long and the reasons I am sure are discussed by the experts in focus group discussions, conferences and the likes.  To spend even more time discussing these factors here would just be rehashing something which has been discussed over and over and over again without any viable solutions in sight.

But just for the sake of muddying up the waters even more, here are some common beliefs or perceived reasons on why the transition to organic agriculture is mulish at best. There is the widely known concept that Filipino farmers are more inclined to do something or try something out if there are dole outs or there is some economic advantage to be had in exchange for their efforts. There is another concept that farmers have this wait-and-see attitude towards new technologies and would rather see the results based on first time  adopters efforts first, before they will embark to try on their own,.  Then there is the perceived notion that organic agriculture is more labor-intensive and takes a lot of time and men to accomplish the tasks. And finally there is the concept that the transition to organic agriculture will result in the lessening of yields in the first several years and that yields equaling conventional farming methods can never be attained on first try. All these are valid notions and have merits towards  finding solutions based on the priorities we apply but one thing about organic agriculture is that - new practitioners or early adopters who were successful in their first forays into organic agriculture will have a greater probability of continuing the project and based on the degree of success, will eventually increase the area devoted to organic crops.

Indeed there will be cases of  the dogmatic and passionate few who chose to carry on despite failing at their first try but these are definitely farmers who could stand to lose in the first or second or even third years and not suffer so much from the setback. For the small farm landowner, this is not an option and only by ensuring that their first tries at organic farming are successful or even just approximating the yields of conventional methods, will they be inclined to continue.,

This slogan "Success at First Try" became the overriding initial consideration in starting an organic SRI Initiative in the Island of Panay , Philippines.  Please stay tuned for more.

Note: This Blog was written months back and upon reading through it prior to publishing, it seems like nothing has changed and what I wrote back then still holds true till now.  I publish this now in celebration of the first year anniversary of the small-farmers group practicing Organic SRI in the Municipality of Zaragga, Province of Iloilo, Philippines.

Monday, August 3, 2015

From the Beach to the Farm: Leaving the job I loved in Virginia Beach, VA as a Senior Database and Web Administrator at the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) Headquarters  to come home to the Philippines after my Dad passed away was the toughest decision ever but having been able to stay with my widowed Mom for her remaining two years and having had the opportunity to help out in my Dad's farm in Zarraga where he was an accredited rice seed producer and to be with the girl who I dearly loved, erased all my doubts of such.

Four years and three weeks later, and here I am now trying to write a blog on a project after a friend, John Roulac, the CEO of  Nutiva, egged me on to "become a writer" and document the project in blog format. Knowing John's intuitive brilliance and  foresight, I knew I had to do this. Especially since this was the same John who is better known for saying "where there is danger, there is opportunity", I figured that with the danger of my writing bad blogs, he must have seen opportunity?

The "project" I speak of which John has become a strategic partner to,  together with Ken Lee and Caryl Levine, the co-founds/co-owners of Lotus Foods in Richmond, California,  is what has been called as the Zarraga High Quality Organic System of Rice Intensification (SRI) Rice Export Initiative.  This has been a farmer initiated and farmer-led project from its inception and after nine months of grueling challenges and obstacles, the farmers have organized themselves into an accredited farmers group and the production of both organic fertilizers and organic SRI rice is now in full swing.

This project aims to redefine and create a whole new organic rice value chain devoid of opportunistic middlemen and traders thereby giving the benefits, power and the credit back to the organic rice farmers, as they justly deserve, for all the hard work they do. Ken and Caryl aptly call this the "Closed-Loop" value chain.. The "High Quality" in the project is a non-negotiable component, because we believe that we all, including our families and friends and the consumers, only deserve the highest quality organic rice for the premium price we are asked to fork out in order to enjoy it at our dinner tables. And of course, how much more organic can you get than the SRI method of rice cultivation. Hence Lotus Foods' More Crop Per Drop (or SRI) program, which they implement with the small farmers in four Asian countries where they source their organic rice from has been adopted to be the organic rice cultivation protocol of choice for this project.

A non-feasible project, some said. Others even said unpatriotic, because of the "export" component.  And others were just not too inclined to even listen to the merits of such.  They could be right in all or some ways. For indeed, the scope of requirements of the project is immense and the checklist of tasks has been unceasing. Yet our farmers are well grounded on the realization that it will take years to accomplish our goals yet they have signified their unwavering support and passion to see this project through a successful completion. I will not get into the politics of arguing with the skeptics and the naysayers. I have always believed, though innocently and naively, that the nature of the beast is global and as such, we should put aside any differences in order to come up with the right solutions.

Nine months since project inception and we have made small but gradual progress. Please just bear with me as I chronicle the events of this  journey -  the bad, the good and even the ugly, as they unfold.  And also to introduce you to the farmers, friends, fellow advocates and visionaries behind this project.

To sum it up, here is what I had posted in my facebook account several days ago.:

The systemic destruction of our farms' soil biodiversity and fertility with its requisite dumping of chemical runoffs ending up in the oceans destroying our coastal and marine resources is a GLOBAL problem and should be scoped with the degree of urgency it deserves and the magnitude of collaboration it requires. Words of encouragement and inspiration from afar become reminders that even the smallest thing we do counts, adds up and makes a world of a difference. 👌
"Keep up the great work. I am glad to have supported your farmers group to grow better rice with less chemicals."
In Health,
John Roulac, CEO and Founder, Nutiva
"While we are relatively small individually…I believe that working together for a greater purpose, we can achieve our goals; many in body and one in mind."
Ken Lee, Co-Owner/Co-Founder Lotus Foods.

From the Farm to the Beach, or From Ridge to Reef,  a holistic approach to the protection, conservation and restoration of our land and coastal resources. Spreading awareness that what we do on land, especially with our soils, will have a resounding effect on our oceans.  Being an avid scuba diver, I have seen and documented both the rich beauty of our underwater marine life as well as the destruction of coral habitat in some dive sites. Saving our soils will indeed save our oceans. Protecting our soils will protect our oceans. Restoring the biodiversity in our soils will restore biodiversity in  our oceans. I have chosen to work on the Ridge, to help the Reef. For those of us who have the opportunity to do so, every little act you do to help will not be puny or inconsequential.  The important thing is to act and to act now.

I started work with SRI in January of 2012 I have personally seen the tremendous potential the rice plant will display especially if "strict" implementation of SRI principles are followed. SRI could be the only organic protocol which can give you more yield during your first tries at transition to organic rice farming.  I will delve more on why this is so later.

Through modifications in the management of farm practices and resources, the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) allows the rice plant to grow to its utmost potential by providing it with the optimum environment to thrive and to flourish.,

What we do on our farm land translates into the health of our oceans.

And yes, most if not all of those who dive, are aware and appreciate the effects that sustainable and regenerative agriculture has on our oceans.