While we are celebrating the opening of the Seed Vault and depositing of seeds here, I hope that the efforts of farmers will not be deposited and forgotten here. We, farmers, are helping in the conservation of seeds. We are developing new seeds. That the seeds to be stored in the seed vault and are in the seed vault now, were nurtured through our own hands and knowledge.
-- Tatay Gipo
La Castellana, Negros Occidental
Saving seeds for the future,
farmers' plight be remembered
Eulogio "Tatay Gipo" Sasi, Jr. Speech
during the Opening Conference for Svalbard Global Seed Vault
25 February 2008
To the organizers of this program, to visitors from other nations, to all the farmers, a good day to all of you.
It is a great honor for me to attend this occasion. I still could not imagine that I am here. Even in my dream, I could not imagine that this will happen – to come here, stand and talk in front of all of you.
For a poor and a simple farmer like me, it seems impossible and hard to face and address you all: this is very far from the Philippines. I thought I could not make it here because I do not have a birth certificate.
I was born on June 8, 1944 in La Castellana, Negros Occidental, Philippines. It was in the middle of the Second World War, which was why my parents were not able to register me.
I was still young when my family migrated from Visayas to Mindanao where we now reside. Because I only reached 4th grade in primary school, I did not bother getting my documents as I didn’t need them, because I am just a farmer. But I learned, that all these documentation is needed to get passport to come here. Of course, you also need a visa.
It occurred to me, how many farmers like me will be able to have an opportunity to get here just to see a seed bank? It seems impossible for an ordinary farmer that does not have any means to pay for the fare and capacity to process papers to come here. That is why, I am very thankful for this invitation.
I would like to share to all of you my experiences as an ordinary farmer. How I was able to raise my family from farming.
I started farming in 1957. I was 12 years old then, when I started helping my father with farm work. I remember that we used traditional varieties like hinumay, Camayo, and Zambales.
We did not use fertilizers and pesticides to kill pests attacking our crops. That was the situation of farmers from 1950s to 1965.
In 1966, I was able to till my own farm because it was also the time that I settled down and started building my own family. It was in 1967 when the first high-yielding varieties from IRRI [International Rice Research Institute] arrived at our place, along with fertilizers and pesticides.
Diseases like rice tungro virus also appeared. You would not see pests in your field when it is being attacked by tungro, leaves just turn to yellow. The result is that rice plants don’t bear good grains. Many farmers were affected by the tungro virus because a lot of us planted high-yielding varieties.
In 1985, another high-yielding variety named IR68 was released by IRRI. Allegedly, this was resistant to tungro. I bought two sacks from a cooperative in our place. I planted it on my field, but it was still attacked by tungro.
But from that IR68, I observed one rice plant which had different features and was not attacked by the tungro virus. I got fascinated with that single plant because it had a different color and a different stand but the grains ripened later than IR 68. I tried six panicles from that plant.
When I harvested the rest of the IR68, what was left was the plant I selected. But something happened with that rice plant because a carabao went over it and started eating it! Good thing I noticed it in time, I pulled and snatched away the four remaining panicles from the carabao’s mouth.
The next cropping season, I planted the seeds individually from those four panicles and these resulted in profuse tillers. One plant produced 60-80 tillers with the majority having 80 tillers. During harvest, I could not believe it, I was able to harvest 25 kilograms just from the four panicles I planted! I repeated the process the following cropping season.
I planted a bulk of the 25 kg in 0.75 hectares and the remaining seeds in another lot covering about 1,350 sqm. I was able to harvest 115 sacks from the 0.75 hectares and another 17 sacks from the 1,350 sqm. All in all, from the 25 kg seeds, I harvested 132 sacks.
I tried ratooning the rice in the 0.75-hectare lot and new rice plants emerged, which enabled me to harvest another 28 sacks.
In 1987, other farmers in our place started noticing my rice plant and many started asking and exchanging seeds. Others bought the seeds, so that the seeds easily spread in our place. Many asked what the name of the rice I selected. I thought of naming it BORDAGOL. BORDAGOL is a comic character from a children’s funny comics.
I chose this name because the character, Bordagol, in the cartoon strip has a good trait and was able to save their planet. I thought that like the cartoon character, this plant could help us farmers because according to our elders, if a rice plant possesses purple tillers, it is resistant to disease. That was how Bordagol got its name. Until 1990, Bordagol was used by farmers in our place and in other places as well. I was also investigated by IRRI that time because of my discovery of that rice variety.
In September 1, 1993, because of Bordagol, I received a Plaque of Recognition for being one of the “Most Outstanding Farmer Achievers” from the Provincial Government of North Cotabato, Philippines.
In 1992, I was approached by SEARICE and they encouraged me to participate in their program. I joined and learned more about rice breeding and other farm technologies.
In 1997, I tried breeding Bordagol with Basmati. It took me five years before I was able to stabilize and release the seeds. I called these GIFTS (Genetically Improved Farm Technology of Seeds). To date, I maintain GIFTS 12, GIFTS 18, GIFTS 20, and GIFTS 21. A number of farmers in our place are already planting these seeds.
When I was invited to talk on this Opening of the Seed Vault, I was hesitant and with mixed emotions. I am embarrassed to talk in front of many people, especially in front of important people, like all of you.
When I was asked what I thought about the seed vault, I replied “I do not know” because we farmers are used to storing seeds through continually planting the seeds in our farms so that the seeds would not be lost. We conserve the seeds by hanging and air drying the panicles. We exchange seeds with fellow farmers so that the seeds will spread to other places. This is how we ensure that our seeds will not be lost. This has been our practice since I was young and with God’s mercy, we were able to get by, even meeting all needs of my family just through farming.
The important thing for us farmers is that our seeds should just be by our side, so that we could plant for the next season or we can use the seeds for breeding. I could not imagine how I would be able to use the seeds that will be stored here, this is too far from my farm. I do not also know how it would be possible for me to share my seeds to other farmers if my seeds are stored here in Svalbard.
I was told, it is possible for me to store my seeds here, but how will I bring the seeds and get the seeds here? Maybe, these would require a lot of paper work.
I do not know how, but I hope that the Seed Vault that will be opened today, can help small farmers today and in the next generation. While we are celebrating the opening of the Seed Vault and depositing of seeds here, I hope that the efforts of farmers will not be deposited and forgotten here. We, farmers, are helping in the conservation of seeds. We are developing new seeds. The seeds to be stored in the seed vault and are in the seed vault now, were nurtured through our own hands and knowledge.
I hope that the knowledge that goes with the seeds will not just be stored in ice, but be further enriched by giving support to the work of farmers.
If there is great attention accorded by the world on seed banks, I hope the concerned agencies will provide equal or more attention and support to our conservation efforts done through continuous use, enrichment of knowledge, and development of new seeds. I hope governments will provide support to farmers including fair and better prices for our products.
This is all I can say. Thank you very much.