Last week, I went to the 10th National Organic Agriculture Congress attended by around 3000 participants from farmers to government officials, NGOs, producers and the business sector at the Philippine International Convention Center. It was also the venue of the first Philippine Natural and Organic Products Expo which was open until Ocober 19.
I have attended the NOAC several times before but this is, by far, the most well attended congress I’ve been to and it shows that there is growing interest and support for organic agriculture. In the past, the NOAC has focused on getting organic agriculture off the ground in the aspects of providing support to farmers to return to organic farming or entrepreneurs to develop their marketing for organic products. In the previous installments, not much attention was given to pressing issues that would affect organic agriculture, such as conventional agriculture that uses synthetic agrochemicals and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Though the passing of the National Organic Agriculture Act (RA 10068) has helped in addressing some of the issues faced by small farmers to return to organic farming by providing funds for research and capital, there are also major concerns about getting produce certified as organic.
The whole discussion about certification is so complex that it makes me wonder why organic products face this difficulty whereas GMOs, which threaten not only agriculture but also our health, are not even labelled in our country.
The simple fact is that organic agriculture and GMOs cannot coexist. An organic farmer’s crops surrounded by conventional farms using synthetic agrochemicals or planting GMOs will get contaminated, and his chances of getting organic certification is close to impossible. And in this year’s NOAC, I couldn’t help but notice the participants’ genuine concern for this fact. It seems more and more people are realizing that without addressing external threats to organic agriculture, all the efforts of farmers, traders and other sectors will be futile.This is the reason why last year, a strong block of participants in the NOAC has already called for a moratorium of GMO approvals and environmental releases and has been unanimously approved after much debate. It is just strange that this valuable outcome of the NOAC was never brought out to the public.
The participants even joined signed the online action asking Secretary Alcala to stop the approval of Golden Rice, a genetically modified rice aimed at addressing Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD). But despite the working solutions employed by our government such as fortification of foods, providing Vitamin A supplementation capsules and the wholistic approach of diversification of diets, there are sectors who are bent at pushing Golden Rice, which is diverting valuable resources from proven solutions that are already in place.
Unlike last year, the call for the Department of Agriculture to stop approving GMOs such as Golden Rice did not take long, and the participants approved this resolution without much debate.
As some participants who signed up the online action said: it is high time for our government to stop the illusion that GMOs do not threaten our health and environment; there is no place for GMOs in a country aspiring for organic agriculture.
For me, that’s a clear signal to our government to choose one path for agricultural development, that is, a future that puts safe and healthy food on the dining tables of Filipinos.
Daniel Ocampo is Sustainable Agriculture campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia based in the Philippines. Follow his updates on Twitter via @dannyoph.