Philippines Can Also Learn from Cuba’s Food Security Path

July 27, 2016

by IBON Foundation

IBON Networks | Green Action PH | Aside from running an efficient health care system and achieving genuinely universal health coverage, the Philippines can also learn from how Cuba achieved food security with the practice of sustainable agriculture.

Cuba’s food security strategy involved shifting from conventional chemical farming in its large-scale industrial farms to organic farming in small worker-owned farm and market cooperatives in the rural and urban areas. Cuba’s agricultural production is currently more than 80% organic.

Faced with an economic embargo from the US and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba shifted to a sustainable agriculture program to cut dependence on fuel and imported agricultural inputs for its industrial farms. It also encouraged urban farming to cut on costs for fuel in the transport of food crops from rural to urban areas.

In order to find alternatives to large-scale industrial farming and stimulate production to feed its population, the Cuban government broke-up many large farms which it turned over to the farmers as smaller worker-owned cooperatives. These are within reasonable proximity from each other. In Belén, Havana, Cuba for instance, farmers’ markets are within six blocks from each other and are open 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Most markets sell fruits, vegetables and meats cultivated on farms located in the outskirts of the city, while one sells produce grown on urban plots.

The practice of “organiponicos” or urban organic gardening is found in many urban centers in Cuba. Run by the local communities, organiponicos use mixed organic gardening methods in small plots of urban land.

The Cuban government also recognized land ownership essential to achieving food security. Hence the Cuban government gave usufruct to sharecroppers in communal gardens managed by cooperatives to produce for home consumption and to supply a portion to local schools and retirement homes.

According to Cuban permaculturalist Roberto Pérez, Cuba established the foundation for a more ecologically sustainable society more than 50 years ago when the revolution gained sovereignty over the resources of Cuba, especially the land and the minerals. Perez said that this was the base for sustainability, as it is not thinkable if a country’s resources are in the hands of a foreign country or in private hands.

The shift to a more ecologically sustainable agricultural production has resulted in healthy organic food being the most convenient and inexpensive food available to Cubans.

Sustainable agriculture struggles in the Philippines

The practice of sustainable agriculture in the Philippines especially in the rural areas has also gained headway and reached significant milestones in the last three decades. Since the ‘80s, the Philippine Peasant Movement (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or KMP), the largest federation of organized peasant associations in the country, together with non-government organizations led by the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko Para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) and Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (SIBAT), have been assisting especially smallholder farmers in enhancing their traditional knowledge on sustainable agriculture practices and appropriate technologies towards producing sufficient, healthy, and nutritious food for local farming communities.

The Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes (PNFSP), organized in 2005 has also made significant milestones in helping to promote and to continue small organic farmers’ practice of sustainable agriculture. Its programs on sustainable agriculture and appropriate technology including micro irrigation projects are spread in the rural areas across the country addressing problems on hunger.

In many of the organized farming communities in rural Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, farmers’ organizations work cooperatively in their farms practicing sustainable agriculture through “bungkalan”. In the Negros Island provinces, farmers enjoy the benefits of their cooperative efforts in so called land-cultivation areas (LCAs) or farmer- occupied idle lands in the many haciendas of sugar barons.

SIBAT also organized urban based organic farming communities. When the practice prospers and urban poor families through communal organic gardens are able to produce for their own food consumption, surplus food produced can be pooled together and help in the promotion and supply of organic food for feeding in public schools.

Meanwhile, the local government unit (LGU) in Quezon City promotes urban gardening among urban poor communities in the city under the Office of the Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte in its program Joy of Urban Farming. Similarly, the Davao City LGU promotes the practice of urban sustainable agriculture and provides trainings and organic inputs support to urban poor communities.

Rural and urban farming communities practicing sustainable agriculture attest to improved incomes and livelihood, improved health and nutrition and securing food for their families and communities.

Farmers are able to save on seeds for the next cropping season. They also share improved organic seed varieties among themselves, something conventional chemical farmers can no longer practice.

Challenges to food security

Despite these gains, a confluence of factors challenges the expansion of sustainable agriculture in the country. Thesed factors include landlessness, lack of government support for small farmers, the Department of Agriculture’s inclination for corporate plantations and propagation of genetically modified organisms (GMO) such as GMO Corn and Golden Rice in Philippine farms, orientation for export production rather than producing for local food consumption and privatization of the functions of food security government agencies such as the National Food Authority (NFA).

Belatedly, the Philippine government also promoted organic agriculture by virtue of the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010 (RA 10068). However, small farmer find it wanting as according to them, government remains biased for conventional chemical farming especially promoting genetically modified organisms over organic farming.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is reportedly pouring in about Php130.95 million of hybrid rice production in November this year and plans to increase areas planted to chemical-dependent hybrid rice in Mindanao to at least one million hectares from the current 400,000 hectares. However, farmers’ experience with hybrid rice production did not yield good results. KMP said farmers could not sustain the cultivation of hybrid rice as it requires additional costs for seeds and agro-chemical inputs. It is also vulnerable to climate changes such as wind stress as what occurred in the yield let-down in Nueva Ecija in the last quarter of 2008 to first quarter of 2009.

Meanwhile, advocates of sustainable agriculture and sustainable development are victims of harassment and extrajudicial killings. Sustainable farming communities are also being threatened by state forces and LGUs. For instance, farmers belonging to theTrinidad-Talibon Integrated Farming Association in Bohol (TTIFA) and the San Roque Farmers’ Association (SRFA) in Aloguinsan, Cebu are being branded as communists. Sustainable agriculture schools have also been burned and threatened closure. Lumad schools in Mindanao which teach sustainable agriculture in Mindanao such as the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) and Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (TRIFPSS), have either been set to fire or occupied by state forces forcing Lumad communities to flee their villages.

Individuals and organizations promoting sustainable production are also subjected to harassed harassments suits by corporations . Dr. Romeo Quijano, M.D., one of the country’s top toxicologists and a staunch sustainable agriculture advocate whose activities involved in exposing the adverse health and environmental impacts of aerialspraying of pesticides by banana plantations has been repeatedly slapped with cases of libel, damages, and a case of unprofessionalism at the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) . The case filed at the PRC against Dr. Quijano used the same accusations contained in falsification and libel cases filed by Lapanday Development Corp. (Ladeco) previously dismissed by the Department of Justice on November 2013. Dr. Quijano is an expert witness for the congressional hearings on House Bill 3857 seeking to ban aerial spraying of pesticides filed during the 16th Congress of the Philippines.

Individuals and organizations promoting sustainable production also experience harassment by corporations that file cases of libel against them. Dr. Romeo Quijano, one of the country’s top toxicologists and a staunch sustainable agriculture advocate has been slapped with a case of unprofessionalism. The case filed in 2015 at the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) against Dr. Quijano used accusations contained in falsification and libel cases filed by Lapanday Development Corp. (Ladeco) previously dismissed by the Department of Justice on November 2013. Dr. Quijano is an expert witness for the congressional hearings on House Bill 3857 seeking to ban aerial spraying of pesticides filed during the 16th Congress of the Philippines.

Recently, Hinatuan Mining Corporation (HMC) charged National Coordinator Yoly Esguerra and three other key personnel of the Philippine-Miserior Partnership Incorporated PMPI with Internet Libel raps for reporting HMC’s continued operation in the island of Manicani, an island in Eastern Samar, amid a suspension order.

Many have also been killed in their advocacy for sustainable agriculture. Families of William Geertmen, who was Executive Director of disaster relief NGO Alay Bayan, Inc., and anti-mining activist Fr. Faustino “Pop” Tentorio, PIME, among other slain development workers, endure the long wait for justice to be meted on the perpetrators who still remain at large.

Strengthening sustainable agriculture

To support the advancement of sustainable agriculture practice in the Philippines, the Makabayan block at the House of Representatives led by the Anakpawis Partylist Representative Ariel Casilao re-filed House Bill No. 1043 or An Act Strengthening Sustainable Agriculture and Enhancing Support for Small Organic Farmers.

Green Action PH, a multi-sector consumers and producers’ group is helping lobby for the promotion of the practice of sustainable agriculture including that in urban poor communities. The group is hopeful that the Department of Agriculture under Secretary Manny Piñol will promote sustainable agriculture as the viable alternative to conventional chemical farming and corporate plantations, to strengthen the course to achieving food security for Filipinos alongside a genuine land distribution program. ###