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Organic agriculture addresses hunger amidst worsening climate change (part 1)

Ariel B. Guides is a native of Bacolod City and has been involved in local, national and international civil society movement for more than two decades and is a noted civil society leader in Negros. He is currently the president of the Alter Trade Philippines Foundation for Food Sovereignty, Inc. (ATPF) that is mainly involved community development work among agrarian reform beneficiaries and marginal farmers in the island of Negros. His community development work involvement is anchored on sustainable agriculture and organic farming practices. He is an advocate of rural sustainable development and fair trade, organic agriculture practices, renewable energy, and workers’ rights and welfare. He also sits as a member of the Board of Directors of Central Negros Electric Cooperative.

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“When tillage begins other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of civilization”. – Daniel Webster

This is my inaugural article for this prestigious local daily and I could not be more thankful for this opportunity. I devote this column to where I am directly involved considering my work in an NGO which is all about sustainable agriculture and organic farming practices with marginal farmers and small agrarian reform beneficiaries in Negros. In any community development work, they are the major actors and stakeholders. Thus, I devote this column to agriculture to organic agriculture and how it can contribute to climate change adaptation, resiliency and mitigation and ensuring food security.

THE MILLENIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS AND AGRICULTURE

But, first, it is important to look at the bigger scale on how agriculture plays an important role in the existence of mankind. In context, it is important how organic agriculture takes place in the realization of the millennium development goals (MDG) set by the United Nations. In 2009, the United Nations set major development goals and, on top of them is the eradication of hunger and poverty by 2030. Quite an ambitious goal and, addressing this can only be done by ensuring food security. And, that is agriculture.

The question that comes to mind though is, how can agriculture address hunger when, in the past century according to the 2015 Food and Agriculture Office report of the UN, states that, “there is rapid change in the climate and ecosystems translating to more severe weather events such as heat waves, droughts and rising sea levels pose major risks to agriculture and food security.” It also added, that, “both climate change and agriculture are closely linked and interdependent since agriculture is both affecting and being affected by climate change.”

But, the same report emphasizes the importance of organic agriculture as a mitigation practice and a climate resilient process in the pursuit of food security, at the same time, helps in the mitigation against its worsening impact. It furthered that, “management of nutrients and pests in organic agriculture can play a major role in climate mitigation. Under organic regulations synthetic inputs such as minerals and chemical pesticides which require vast amounts of fossil fuel are prohibited.” In this light, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change and numerous scientists strongly advocate the “so-called” resilient agro-ecosystems.

EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON ECONOMY AND AGRICULTURE

Climate change costs the Philippine an estimated 26B loss to the economy annually. This loss primarily comes from the reduction of private consumption and, total investment, mainly influenced by higher commodity prices and lower household income levels. Just the same, this is caused by high exposure to natural hazards (typhoons, landslides, floods, droughts), the dependence on climate-sensitive natural resources, and vast coastlines where all of its major cities and the majority of the population reside. We are an archipelago that is naturally rich but, now has an increasingly depleted natural and marine resources base that support livelihoods.

Equally, natural resources play a critical role in the Philippine economy, as agriculture, fisheries, and forestry represent about 10 percent of gross domestic product and account for almost 30 percent of employment. Moreover, more than half of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy sector, followed by agriculture, industrial waste and land-use shifts and forestry. Clearly agriculture comes in second as the most affected but, at the same, a major factor in the worsening climate change.

Climate change impact on agriculture is considerably devastating. Past studies have shown that the Philippines incurred PhP 463 billion in damages due to extreme weather events over the past decade and, – 62.7 percent of which or PhP 290 billion were damages to agriculture sector. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council estimates that typhoon Odette caused PhP47 billion in total to both infrastructure and agriculture. And, typhoon Paeng has wiped out at least P1.3 billion worth of agricultural goods according to the Department of Agriculture in October 2022.

Obviously, climate change is altering production systems and compromising food security and nutrition for millions of Filipinos. The 112 million Filipinos has a growth rate of 1.5 per cent and is the 13th biggest population in the world which means bigger threat to food security. The FAO noted that, “due to climate change, crop yields are expected to decline by 25 per cent in tropical countries such as the Philippines”. It reminds us that “globally, the total production should increase by about 60 per cent by 2050 to produce enough food for the world’s growing population”. Ironically, Filipino farmers who labor in the fields to produce food bear the greatest brunt of food insecurity and malnutrition. Climate change causes greater food insecurity and reduces nutrition, income, and market access.

Conversely, agriculture is also a big contributor to emission due to excessive use of fertilizers, methane released by production farms and livestock, over-tilling soil leads to soil carbon and moisture loss. Above all, is the phenomenon of forest conversions and other ecosystems mainly to industrial use. The scaling up and expansion of agricultural commodities—including livestock and mono-cropping of major products such as rice, banana, sugarcane and coffee—to meet global demands has led to substantial greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation.*

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