Safe vegetables for farmers, consumers assured at BSU

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A healthy lifestyle is closely associated with vegetables which are known as sources of ample nutrients and fiber.

“Fiber binds and eliminates toxins promoting a regular bowel movement. Fiber is also a rich source of phytochemicals responsible for preventing free radicals in the body thatmay cause cancer,” said Sherilyn Balauro, Nutritionist-Dietitian and a faculty member of the BSU-College of Home Economics and Technology. Balauro added that vegetables also prevent micro-nutrient deficiencies such scurvy due to vitamin C deficiency and pellagra due to B-vitamins deficiency.

Yet vegetables can be harmful due to how they are grown. The use of synthetic chemicals in growing vegetables pose risk to the health of not only the consumers but the farmers as well. This resulted to the growing demand for organically-grown vegetables.

More farmers are now convinced to shift into organic farming, however, the tedious process of acquiring certification and marketing organic vegetables proves to be a challenge. Thus, the BSU-Internal Guarantee System was conceptualized in 2008 with the aim to help farmers understand and learn the standards of organic farming.

Beginnings of the BSU-Internal Guarantee System (BIGS)

BSU Internal Guarantee System or BIGS is a set of organic farming standards patterned from the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), Philippine National Standards for Organic Agriculture (PNSOA) and the Organic Certification Center of the Philippines (OCCP). Of course, it prohibits the use of synthetic chemicals in farming. BIGS also prohibits the clearing of forests for farming and the burning of grasses and other plant debris except if materials contain diseases and pests.

BIGS was conceptualized in 2008. Instrumental to this development are Mr. John Paul Taberdo, an Australian Youth Development Volunteer who was with the College of Agriculture then; Dr. Julia A. Solimen who was the director of Office of Extension Services (OES); Mr. Jamesly Andres, training coordinator; and Dr. Silvestre L. Kudan who was a faculty member of the College of Agriculture.

The first farmers who adhered to BIGS were the members of the Balili Organic Farmers’ Association who finished the Certificate in Practical Organic Agriculture or CPOA, a training program of the OES. In 2009, BSU launched the Organic Market later known as the BIGS Center. The market only opened for business every Wednesday and with the steady flow of customers, it opened from Monday to Friday the following year. In 2010, the CPOA was re-named BIGS Qualifying Course to increase the number of farmer cooperators that can produce and supply safe and nutritious products to the BIGS center.

It was in 2015 that the BIGS Center Group was organized and decided to use the terms “naturally-grown”and“chemical-free” instead of “organically- produced.”

Despite the strict standards being implemented in the organization, more farmers still applied for membership to be able to sell their naturally-grown produce in the BIGS Center as well as learn new knowledge and skills from seminars sponsored by OES.

BIGS Adopters

One BIGS adopter is Mr. Abelardo Sublino of Tuba. Before he became an organic farmer, he was coping with the problems of conventional farming which are the constant increase in the prices of chemical inputs and the effect of these chemicals to his health. Upon hearing about the opportunity that BSU has opened to all willing farmers, he immediately inquired about the requirementsand complied to them.

When asked about his motivations in becoming a member despite some negative comments about organic farming, he answered that what is important is his mind is at ease and his conscience is clean knowing that the vegetables he sells are chemical-free and safe.

The BIGS Center has also set a standard pricing system of the naturally-grown and chemical-free products sold by the farmers. Mr. Sublino added that this inspires him to farm all the more because the prices do not fluctuate as compared to the prices of vegetables produced through conventional farming. Aside from that, Mr. Sublino looks forward to the benefits of being a BIGS Center member such as his acquisition of new knowledge and skills from seminars and trainings sponsored by the OES. Government programs for farmers could also reach him through the organization.

BIGS Center members including Mr. Sublino are now freely availing of the seminars and trainings being conducted by the university’s extension office and other government agencies. Their knowledge and skills are updated every now and then, and they have access to the university’s current technologies to improve their farming practices.

When asked to compare his profit in conventional farming with organic farming, he said he earned more from organic farming.

“Nu ijay synthetic,idi ket awan ti income, kaaduan na ket deficit, tadta ket in one year makaurnong ak ti Php 45, 000. Gain dayjay ta nai-minus amin dagiti expenses ti farm. (In conventional farming, I usually have deficits most of the time. Now, I can earn a net of income PhP 45,000 in a year),” he added.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Ursula Sacley of Atok and her husband were first convinced by their mother to join the organic farming association. After witnessing the benefits of organic farming, they have been delivering their products at the BIGS center for more than six years. As BIGS adopters, they said that shifting to organic farming made them more comfortable because they do not need to cover their nose when spraying. The couple uses mokusako or wood vinegar as fertilizers.

Recalling his days using chemicals, Mr. Sacley said that upon spraying chemical inputs, he can feel pain in his nose and lungs. He remembered feeling weak after spraying and the lingering smell of chemicals even after washing.  His wife added that with conventional farming, plants usually get more diseases prompting the need for intensive spraying.

When it comes to income Mrs. Sacley said, “Almost neto ka ijay organic, ta nu ag-conventional ka isublim met lang ijay garden.Santo nu weekly ka nga agdeldeliver, weekly met ti kwartam, (Almost all the proceeds from organic farming are the farmer’s net income. In conventional farming, the proceeds are used to purchase farm inputs. With organic farming, if you harvest and deliver weekly, you earn money weekly.) They also added that they earn Php 5,000 to Php 10,000 delivering a few kilos of their harvest every week.

Though organic farming requires more labor than conventional farming, Mr. Sacley encourages everyone saying; “Natrabaho nga talaga ngem ti strategy nalang dayta ket anus ken gaget, tapos maysa pay at least safe ka nga agtrabtrabaho ta uray anya araramidem ijay garden at least nga  awan pagdanagan (It is really tedious, but the strategy is to be patient and hardowrking… at least you are safe working in your farm, there is nothing to worry about).”

BIGS membership requirements

Benguet State University Internal Guarantee System is open to all interested farmers who wish to become a member. Farmers just need to inquire at the Office of Extension Services to register for the 5-day BIGS qualifying course with a registration fee of PhP4, 500 +. After the training, the farms of the trainees will be inspectedby the monitoring team composed of a soil analyst, farm technicians, pest and disease analyst, pesticide residue analyst, plant pathologist, crop specialist and documenters. They (the monitoring committee) are the authorized individuals to inspect farms; determine plant diseases in the farm if there are any;analyze the soil type;recommend possible products that can be grown in the farm;and inspect buffer zones, water source and safety. If the farm is deemed at par with BIGS standards, the applicant may already claim his/her stickers and farm codes from the OES; sign commitments as BIGS members; and open their account at the BSU Multi-purpose Cooperative (MPC) where cash income from their products will be deposited.

Assigned farm coordinators and members monitor the farm of their co-members at least once a year to ensure that BIGS standards are being followed. A member suspected of violating the BIGS standard will be reported to the Office of Extension Services. Verification will be done and if proven that the member is violating BIGS standards, sanctions will be imposed.

The BIGS Center is located beside the BSU Marketing Center coffee shop.Non-members are also buying the naturally-grown in bulk to retail it in different stores within La Trinidad, Baguio City and even in Manila.

By A.L. Marzo, with reports from Gladys B. Longbabi and Jessa C. Erejedor.Reference: Kudan, S. 2016. Organic Farming: The Benguet State University Experience

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