Healthy soils are the foundation of habitats of living beings. They lay the groundwork, so to speak, in producing food, clean water, and other needs of life on earth. But in the last decade, deterioration and degradation of soil have been a cause of concern and even alarm, since it threatens food security and the sustainability of the environment.
Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, has passed legislations and implemented projects as well as programs with other groups to solve, and protect soils as important resources for sustainable agricultural development. In particular, she is alarmed by the level of soil degradation in the Philippines, which is placed at 38 percent.
“We must remember that over 95 percent of our food comes from the soil. Thus, soil health is important for agricultural productivity, which in turn will affect food security. And the solution is as simple as putting nutrients back to the soul through composting and going organic,” said Villar.
Villar has thus pushed for legislations that also provide for soil protection through sustainable and organic means. Likewise, she has also established and supported projects and programs in numerous communities all over the country to promote proper waste management, particularly kitchen and garden wastes, as well as from the wet markets (palengke) that can be turned into composts or organic fertilizer.
Villar’s waste management initiatives
The senator, through the Villar Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance or Villar SIPAG, established an organic fertilizer facility that uses two methods—rotary composting and vermicomposting. Composting centers are set up in barangays where the collected kitchen and garden wastes from households are brought. It now has 80 composters utilized by 80,000 households in Las Pinas City and Bacoor City.
“As part of our companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) and in support of my advocacy, Vista Land and Camella Homes communities in various parts of the country also have waste management facilities or centers. The wastes are also processed into organic fertilizer,” said Villar.
As of September 2020, the 20 Vista Land/Camella communities in the National Capital Region, Regions 3, 4-A, and 5 (for Luzon); Regions 6 and 7 (for Visayas); Regions 10, 11, 12; and CARAGA (for Mindanao) produce over 61,000 kilos of organic fertilizers from kitchen and garden wastes collected from the residents.
Villar also established vermicomposting facilities that produce vermicompost or organic fertilizer, the use of which is environment-friendly since it keeps the soil healthy. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), composting can divert up to 150 kilograms of food waste per household per year from local collection authorities.
Villar SIPAG’s coconet weaving enterprises also help in solid waste management efforts as well as soil protection. It converts coconut husks that clog rivers and waterways into materials such as coconets, which are used as riprap materials in construction projects to prevent soil erosion. Vista Land buys the coconets for its housing subdivisions.
The workers extract fiber and coco peat from the coconut husks using a decorticating machine, which can extract fiber from up to 8,000 husks of coconuts daily. The fibers are then made into twines by women workers. Each twine is eight meters long. Another group of workers weave the loom of twines, and within two hours, they can weave one roll measuring one meter by 50 meters that can earn for them 200 pesos. The coconets cost 2,000 pesos per roll.
The coco peat or dusts extracted by the same machine are mixed with household wastes to make organic fertilizers. All the fertilizers produced are distributed all over the country and given free to farmers and urban gardeners.
Working with BSWM in providing composting facilities to farmers & LGUs
Villar has also worked with the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) in providing Small Scale Composting Facilities (SSCFs) for Biodegradable Wastes (CFBWs) to farmer-beneficiaries and LGUs all over the country, so they can produce their own organic fertilizer.
The CFBW units strengthened the institutional capacities of LGUs in terms of sorting, collecting, and composting their community wastes and to lessen the dependence of farmers on commercial fertilizers. A CFBW unit can process one to two tons of biodegradable wastes and can produce 500 kilos of organic fertilizer in a span of two weeks. It is in line with the National Organic Agriculture Program (NOAP) of the government.
Based on data from the National Solid Waste Management Commission, an estimated 40087.46 tons of waste are generated nationwide per day. Thus, there is a need to process wastes and to set up facilities near public markets and in residential areas that will convert those wastes into organic fertilizers or composts.
Biodegradable wastes account for 52% of the total waste composition in Metro Manila, 41% for recyclable wastes, and 7% for residual wastes. According to Villar, by processing wastes, LGUs can save funds that will otherwise be used in paying for garbage collection, disposal, and trucking services. On top of that, it will bring LGUs and the country closer in becoming zero-waste as part of the sustainable development goals.
The Solid Waste Management agency of DENR will also follow the lead of the BSWM of DA in giving out composting facilities all over the country to produce organic fertilizer for our farmers and promote proper solid waste management.
“Teaching people how to compost their wastes and providing them with the facilities or equipment to do it resulted in multiple benefits. It’s a win-win situation for agriculture and the environment. It helps farmers save on fertilizer expense and increase their crop production. It keeps the soil healthy, so it is environment-friendly,” said Villar.
Villar SIPAG has also conducted capacity-building trainings on the operations of CFBW. The training program was attended by city agriculturists, municipal agricultural officers, and LGU representatives nationwide. It continues to partner with BSWM in providing training and distributing CFBW to communities nationwide.
Senate Bill to make organic certification cheaper
Healthy and chemical or pesticide-free soil is also the first step towards organic farming, which Villar has also been promoting and providing legislative support to. Although there is a National Organic Agriculture Program (NOAP) is in place, organic has not really gained ample ground in the country. Organic farmers sought Villar’s help in bringing down the cost of certification which is really prohibitive.
Villar authored and filed Senate Bill No. 1318, introduced the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), a more affordable and accessible certification system for organic products. It will amend Republic Act No. 10068 (The Organic Agriculture Act of 2010) and will provide the much-needed impetus to support the growth of organic agriculture in the country. It was passed on Third Reading in the Senate on June 1.
“We have huge potential in organic agriculture but our local organic farmers are disadvantaged because they cannot have their produce or products labelled as organic due to the prohibitive cost of certification. PGS is the solution to that. It will make them more competitive,” said Villar. Certification ranges from PhP42,000 to PhP150,000 per crop compared to PGS costs only between PhP600 to PhP2,000.
PGS is also widely adhered to and accepted by international organic movements, such as the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM). It is also recognized by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) as a pro-farmer alternative to third party certification.
The new organic law will benefit the estimated 165,958 organic farming practitioners in the Philippines, majority of which are small farmers. According to Villar, it is important for small farmers to be able to afford organic certification because they are the major force in the country’s agriculture sector. They are the key to the success of organic farming in the country and they should be well-equipped and adequately supported in order to compete head-on in seizing the opportunities as demand for organic products continue to rise.
FAO: soil degradation threatens food security
Unsustainable agriculture practices contribute to soil degradation. Soil erosion is one of the major causes of soil degradation and biodiversity loss. It removes the very fertile topsoil and exposes the remaining soil layer. On World Soil Day (WSD) on December 5, the importance of healthy soil and its sustainable management is the key message under the theme “Keep soil alive, protect soil biodiversity.”
According to the FAO, world population is estimated to reach 9 to 10.5 billion by 2050. The health of the soil cannot be ignored if we want to be able to provide food and sustain our soil resources.
FAO also warned about some agricultural practices such as the use of fertilizer and pesticides that damage and deplete the soil’s organic matter that leads to loss of soil fertility and crop damage too. On top of that, it also increases the reliance of farmers on “external inputs” to maintain productivity, which is unsustainable over the long term. Here in the Philippines, there is also the issue of fertilizer scam.
“Ordinary farmers basically need three important things to be able to farm—seeds, water (irrigation), and fertilizer. So, if they can make their own fertilizer, then it would lessen cost and increase their income. That is why I have been encouraging people to compost which they can use as fertilizer,” cited Villar.
Villar added that the Philippines is an agricultural country, thus soils are a very important resource. “It is in our best interest to protect it to ensure a food-secure future for the next generation of Filipinos,” said Villar.