Organic agriculture in the Philippines: What you need to know

What is Organic Agriculture?

This farming practice relies on ecological processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than on the use of inputs that turn out adverse effects (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)). 

It is under the umbrella of sustainable agriculture but not a subset. 

Compared with conventional farming, this practice is still in its emergent phase and has been steadily growing by 10% to 20% annually since 2000 according to USDA. 

The Philippines started to recognize the importance of this farming practice in 2005 as seen in the passage of the Republic Act 10068 or the Promotion and Development of Organic Agriculture in the Philippines, which provided government support to this sector. This was followed by the passage of the Organic Agriculture Act of 2008 that increased the popularity of organic agriculture in the country. 

Organic products and their rising popularity

DOST-PCAARRD noted that there is a small but rapidly increasing market for organic produce. Due to the pandemic, the demand for organic products increases as people opt for a healthier lifestyle, including food options that are chemical/pesticide-free (vegetables and fruits) and antibiotic-free/naturally raised (livestock animals).

In a survey conducted by Rakuten Insight, 32% of the 14,859 respondents from the Philippines said that they “sometimes buy organic food products.” This survey also revealed that people tend to buy organic because they perceive it to be healthier than non-organic foods. 

Frequency of purchasing organic food in the Philippines.

Fig. 1. Frequency of purchasing organic food in the Philippines. 
*adapted from Statista.com

An article from Business Mirror also mentioned that the demand for organically produced food is becoming a trend for investments in the Philippines, Indonesia, and China. 

Should farms go organic?

Organic farming requires complex and expensive certifications. Despite its emerging popularity, the Philippines has a low number of certified organic operators (85 as of July 2019) which can be attributed to three factors: high certification costs, strict soil amendments, and expensive fertilizer trials. Organic farms need to be certified for as much as PHP70,000 per year; conduct soil testing that has a cap or limit of 5–10% for nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K); and conduct fertilizer trials (Experimental use Permit) which allows fertilizer to be tested on each crop to identify which is best suited for the crops. Certification such as the Philippine National Standard for Organic Agriculture (PNSOA) is complex and expensive for small-income farmers and farm owners. Aside from complex certification requirements, the sustainability to feed the entire population is uncertain. 

Certified organic food is generally more expensive than conventional counterparts. Here are some reasons as explained by FAO:

  1. Limited supply and distribution of organic products is inefficient (usually in small volumes).
  2. Production cost is higher due to higher labor inputs which is generally higher per unit of output.
  3. Post-harvest handling is also in small batches and they are segregated from conventional produce during processing and transportation.
  4. Pasture-based animal production where animal welfare is top priority.
  5. Safe handling of pesticides to avoid health risk to farmers
  6. Rural development that provides additional employment for farmers and income to producers.
  7. Avoid pollution.

Can organic farms feed the entire population while mitigating the effects of climate change? Steve Savage, a plant pathologist and agriculture expert wrote an article that explains why organic farms are not enough to feed the entire population and that it is a “terrible option from a climate change perspective.”

According to Steve and as mentioned in this brief, organic yield (in grains and vegetable crops) is lower compared to conventional yield. The 2016 data from the United States, the biggest producer of organic outputs, suggested that the only crop category that produced higher in organic farms were forage crops (crops for grazing animals). Only sweet potato among other vegetable crops exhibits higher yield in organic farms. 

Fig. 2 and 3. Percentage yield on forage crops  and vegetable crops (US 2016)
** adapted from US Forage Crops 2016

The data also suggested that the United States needed 100 million more acres of agricultural land— impossible to acquire— to produce the output standardly produced (through conventional farming and other farming practices) to feed its population.  To make this possible, forest and grassland will need conversion which will result in a major release of sequestered carbon contrary to other claims that conversion to organic agriculture is the solution of the sector to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Organic farms have lower yield, especially in transition farms or farms that previously had “dead soil” and will be turned to “living soil” through organic farming. Dead soils tend to have slower build up of humus or organic matter.

A study revealed that from a global perspective, the yield of an organic farm is 25–50% lower than conventional farming practices due to lack of availability of supply of manure.  There is a low supply of biomass, a substrate for fertilizer production that comes from manure, agricultural residues (such as rice straw and hull, coconut husk, fronds), and municipal solid waste. In 2019, the estimated manure production is at 94 million tons per year based on the 5 ton per hectare application rate. This can cover 19 million hectares of farms, however, only advanced countries have a 90–95% success rate. Consequently, not all agricultural residues and municipal solid waste can be used as fertilizer.

In 2015, the country had 234,000 hectares of organic production area catering to the export market. The majority of the organic farm produce has been coming from coconut products which are exported to the international market including the United States (58.5%) and Japan and Korea (32.8%). Coconut water from the Philippines has a 100% increase in sales and is expected to continue to prosper in the next coming years.

In 2017, the Philippines ranked fifth in the world among the highest organic producers at 166,000 (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Top 10 countries with largest numbers of organic producers (2017).
**adapted from FiBL Survey 2019

What organic farms should do

Yield in organic farming is comparable to conventional farming according to PCAARRD. Given the right genotype and management. The following are the expert’s recommendations to maximize yield in organic agriculture:

  1. Take advantage of the organic export market as an international market. Organic farms should prioritize international markets (who are willing to pay more).
  2. Use organic varieties that are best suited for organic farming. Do not use conventional varieties instead of organic varieties.
  3. Maximize the use of available organic fertilizers found in farmers’ farms.
  4. Shorten the supply chain by linking organic farmers to consumers to maximize income.

Organic vs Conventional Agriculture

The essential difference between sustainable and conventional agriculture is the use of fertilizer and the provision of plant nutrition. Conventional farming uses chemicals as fertilizers to fight pests and weeds and provide plant nutrition while sustainable agriculture uses biodiversity and composting.

Compared to sustainable agriculture that maximizes farm inputs, this uses synthetic or chemical fertilizers to maximize the yield of crops that are often genetically modified.

Why do farmers opt for chemical fertilizers?

Synthetic fertilizers have a lot of benefits including:

  1. Convenient to use since it can be easily applied to soil as granules, powder, or liquid concentrate. 
  2. An accurate formulation that provides the right amount of nutrients needed by the crop.
  3. Longer life compared with organic fertilizers.
  4. Immediate release of nutrients into the soil avoids nutrient deficiency in crops.

Organic vs conventional fertilizers: impacts on the environment

*** data from Rodale Institute and the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD)

Background

Agriculture Profile

The Philippines is an agricultural country with 30 million hectares of land area,  47% of which is designated for agriculture. The major crop in the country are rice, corn, coconut, sugarcane banana, pineapple, coffee, mango, tobacco, and abaca (Climate Smart Agriculture in the Philippines)

Food and Fertilizer Technology for ASEAN and Pacific Region (FFTC-AP) reported that this sector accounted for 13% of the total GDP from 1998 to 2009 but has steadily declined to 10% in 2017. However, its gross value added (GVA) in constant price has been growing the same year which means that agriculture is not declining in absolute size. Its declining contribution to GDP is due to structural transformation growth as industry and services grew much faster thereby accounting for increasing contribution to the growing economy.

The country’s GDP in agriculture is low considering the number of workforce relying on this sector as employment (30%). This suggests that structural transformation is slow and productivity is lower compared to other sectors. 

Fig. 1. Employment by industry groups. 
**(adapted from FFTC-AP report 2018)

The Philippine government aimed for higher productivity by 2013 and targeted an annual growth rate of 5% in crops, 2% in livestock, 5% in poultry, and 3% in fisheries. Both poultry and livestock achieved their targets, while crops and fisheries productivity declined due to natural calamities, extreme weather conditions, and closed fishing season in some areas in 2016. 

Effects of climate change on agricultural productivity

2020 World Risk Report (WRR) revealed that the Philippines ranked 9th in the world as the most affected country from extreme weather events (Table 1). 

Table 1. List of countries with high exposure to natural hazards.

*(table adapted from World Risk Report 2020)

Due to its geographical location, the country is prone to extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones disrupting agricultural productivity and food security, and sufficiency in the country. (Climate-resilient Agriculture Philippines)

According to the National Climate Change Action Plan 2011-2028, from 1990-2006, Php 12.43 billion worth of damage to agriculture was brought by typhoons (70.3%), drought (17.9%), and floods (5%) (Fig. 1). The damage and loss brought by typhoon Ondoy alone to farmers reached US$ 849 million or Php 40.8 billion in 2009. The annual estimated damage by the typhoon to the agricultural sector is at PHP 136 million.

Fig. 1. Estimated cause of natural disasters to agriculture 1990-2006. 
*(adapted from National Climate Change Action Plan 20211-2028)

The International Center for Agriculture presented challenges for the Philippine agricultural sector in the next 30 years:

  1. The growing population estimated to reach 150 million by 2050
  2. Aging farmers (average age of Filipino farmer is 57) who tends to veer away from innovations and new technologies;
  3. changing dietary preferences of the country’s growing population;
  4. decreasing arable land, increasing intensification of farmland with chemical fertilizers
  5. lacking farm-to-market roads and processing facilities;
  6. Lacking agricultural research and development (R&D) to support advancement and innovations

Glossary

Compost- created from the aerobic decomposition of many materials usually considered waste, including food scraps, animal manures, leaves, straw, and more. Composting occurs when carbon-rich materials (“browns”), like straw and leaves, are mixed with nitrogen-rich materials (“greens”), like food scraps and manure (rodalleinsitute.org).

Green manure- plants that are grown to provide soil cover and to improve the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of soil. GMCCs may be sown independently or in association with crop (FAO).

References: 

DA-AMIA. 2017. Climate-Resilient Agriculture in Philippines. CSA Country Profiles for Asia Series. International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT); Department of Agriculture – Adaptation and Mitigation Initiatives in Agriculture, Government of the Philippines. Manila, Philippines. 24 pCli

BusinessMirror. (2021, September 23). ADB: Organic food a boon for SEA. https://businessmirror.com.ph/2021/09/23/adb-organic-food-a-boon-for-sea/

DOST-PCAARRD. (2021). Forum Proceedings: Organic and Inorganic Agriculture. Https://Elibrary.Pcaarrd.Dost.Gov.Ph/Slims. Retrieved December 2021, from https://elibrary.pcaarrd.dost.gov.ph/slims

Entine, J. (2019, October 11). Viewpoint: Don’t buy organic food if you want to increase farm yields or seriously address climate change. Genetic Literacy Project. 

https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2019/10/07/viewpoint-dont-buy-organic-food-if-you-want-to-seriously-address-climate-change/

Mahirang, R., Dela Cruz, R., & Villareal, R. (Eds.). (2011). How Sustainable Is Organic Agriculture In The Philippines? (Vol. 33, Issue 2). 

https://www.nast.ph/images/pdf%20files/Publications/NAST%20Transactions/NAST%202011%20Transactions%20Volume%2033%20Issue%20No.%202/4%20How%20Sustainable%20is%20Organic%20Agriculture%20in%20the%20Phils%20Rodel%20G.%20Maghirang%20et%20al.pdf

Organic Agriculture: Why is organic food more expensive than conventional food? (n.d.). FAO. Retrieved December 2021, from https://www.fao.org/organicag/oa-faq/oa-faq5/en/

R.A. No. 10068. (2010). Https://Lawphil.Net/Statutes/Repacts/Ra2010/Ra_10068_2010.Html. https://lawphil.net/statutes/repacts/ra2010/ra_10068_2010.html

Soil Health. (2020, September 29). Rodale Institute. Retrieved December 2021, from https://rodaleinstitute.org/why-organic/organic-farming-practices/soil-health/

Statista. (2021, November 26). Frequency of purchasing organic food Philippines 2021. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1009473/philippines-frequency-of-purchasing-organic-food/

World Risk Index 2021. (2020). Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department House of Representatives. 

https://cpbrd.congress.gov.ph/images/PDF%20Attachments/Facts%20in%20Figures/FF2021-20_World_Risk_Index_2020.pdf

Researcher at Climate Tracker

A research specialist and editor in a national government agency in the Philippines. Considers herself a polymer clay artist. Loves watching true-crime documentaries and drinking green tea with honey. Also speaks Filipino.