More than 200 Farmers Gathered in 2019 Farmers' Assembly
14 December 2019, President Roxas, Cotabato, Philippines – With the theme “Binhi Ampingan, Pagkaon Siguruhon para sa Malinawon ug Mauswagong Komunidad” (Save our Seeds, Secure our Food for a Harmonious and Prosperous Community), more than 200 participants, composed mainly of farmer partners from Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato, Philippines gathered for this year’s Farmer’s Assembly.
The assembly served as a platform for discussion of pressing national issues, highlighting the need for immediate action and strengthening of farmers’ organizational capacities, farmer partner testimonies, cooperation and initiatives from the local governments and the recognition of outstanding farmer partners. The farmers’ assembly also showcased farmer’s products through an exhibit.
A Challenging Time for Farmers
Eddie Sasi, a farmer from President Roxas, Cotabato and a long-time partner of SEARICE, opened the program by sharing his experiences, emphasizing that it is indeed a challenging time for all farmers in the country. While difficulties are present, he delivered a message of hope to all the participants, expressing the need for recognition of efforts from farmer breeders, and a firm stand on practicing diversified and organic farming. “Maraming problema para sa mga magsasaka, pero kakayanin natin (There are numerous problems confronting us farmers, but we will overcome them),” he said.
SEARICE’s Policy Advocacy Officer, Cid Ryan Manalo presented the key definitions, the long history of the overarching trade policies linked to the passing of the tarrification law, its salient points, and relevant government facts and figures.
Highlighting the farmers’ key role in agricultural development, and capturing the values inherent to farmer’s seed systems, SEARICE Executive Director, Normita Ignacio talked about seed ownership and the challenges surrounding it. She presented the history of plant genetic resources ownership and the transformation it has undergone over the years because of corporate control, as well as the underlying issues on genetic erosion, inappropriate policies and the neglect of smallholder farmers. She remains positive that through joining hands and commitment to change, from the CSOs, LGUs and farmers, changes will soon be at arm’s reach.
A Crucial Time for Unity
Anchoring from the previous discussions, Gilbert Manlapig encouraged all the attendees to strengthen their commitment to change. He shared his personal experiences lobbying for the amendments to the National Seed Law, and the need to monitor its developments, making sure that substantive points remain. Furthermore, he echoed the existing issues of the farmers linking them to the critical need to organize – as its general secretary, Manlapig presented the history and rationale of the newly-created National Farmers’ Seed Network, enjoining everyone to participate in its upcoming activities.
Farmer trainers and expert plant breeders Eduardo Edullantes (President Roxas, Cotabato), Eduardo Ybot (Magpet, Cotabato) and Samuel Peralta (expert breeder from Sultan Kudarat) also delivered testimonies. Edullantes who trained the most recent graduates of FFS in Kamarahan for vegetable and rice breeding, narrated his experiences as a trainer and the need to expand such initiatives to other farmers, expressing his commitment for the years to come. Ybot on his part introduced the diversified farming practices he has established in his own farm, inspiring everyone to adopt the same and have a firm stand against the use harmful pesticides and fertilizers. Peralta, amidst personal challenges of deteriorating vision, remains committed in applying the lessons he acquired in plant breeding from SEARICE. He takes pride in his achievements, but more importantly on the smallholder farmers values system. When one farmer intervened and asked if he can buy his variety, he responded “Bakit bibilhin, exchange lang tayo, ganun tayong mga magsasaka (Why buy? Let’s exchange seeds. That’s how it is among us, farmers).”
Initiatives of the local government units also strengthened the commitment of farmers. The Municipal Agricultural Officer of Arakan, Mr. James Dulay presented the initiatives and commitment on organic farming by the municipality. From initiatives that show a deep commitment to caring for the earth’s resources – diversified and purely organic farming, to the multiple supportive policies passed respecting farmers’ participation and the vow to continue such practices and partner with other LGUs, Arakan’s experience is truly an inspiration and must be replicated all over the country. The Arakan Valley Complex (AVC), through its administrator Kerwin Jade Mallorca, also presented the ongoing proposal and work plan on a Seed Sanctuary. The AVC body is composed of five municipalities surrounding the Arakan Valley. The proposal was made possible through interventions from SEARICE, and the lobbying of NFSN’s Gilbert Manlapig.
In recognition of farmers partners who have been continually supporting the initiatives on participatory plant breeding since 1994, the first few batches of the FFS conducted by SEARICE received certificates of appreciation and plaques. Towards its conclusion, the assembly also unanimously elected Mr. Eddie Sasi as the chair, with one coordinator from each municipality present, for an organization that will support and coordinate all the activities of farmer partners. Their coordination meeting will be in January 2020, with a commitment from SEARICE to provide technical support.
The exhibit included purely organic vegetables from Arakan (white and violet ube, ginger, alugbati, stringbeans, candava and saba bananas, squash etc.), organic vegetables from the FFS in rice and vegetable breeding in Kamarahan, products from Bagumbayan, Sultan Kudarat, and rice varieties for field trials from Magpet.
Imelda Piñero, an Outstanding Farmer Partner awardee and a part of the Fourth Batch trained for FFS in 1996, served as the farmer assembly’s moderator.