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Social Economy and the System of Rice Intensification in the Philippines

My name is Daniel and I study nonprofit and voluntary sector management at Ryerson and adult education and community development at OISE.

I’ve been interested in ecological agriculture for some time mostly as a consumer rather than producer, but I have been fortunate enough to visit organic farms in India and most recently in the Philippines. The farmers I met have generously spared their time to allow me to learn about what they do and why they do it. I am also interested in the role nonprofit and activist actors in the social economy play in relation to resource mobilization and sharing knowledge in this international social movement.

On August 14, 2008, I travelled to Pampanga, north of Manila with Jun Garde who is working with the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM). Jun was to do follow up visits to some farms that instituted trials of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method of growing rice. This technique, which originated in Madagascar in 1983, is now being tested in several Asian countries including the Philippines. Documentation to this point from around the world finds that SRI achieves “higher yields with a 25-50% reduction in water requirements…may also reduce greenhouse gas emissions…[and] stronger root systems help the plants stand up to drought, wind damage and cold spells”*(see below for ref.). As a Canadian interested in sustainable agriculture practices around the world, I was fascinated to find out more about SRI.

Mt. Arayat

The farm of Lito Malliare is situated in the shadow of Mt Arayat. His 6 hectare farm includes rice, vegetables such as eggplant and tomatoes, as well as sorghum and various fruit trees like calamansi, chiko, guava and santol.

Lito in long eggplant (talong) field

His rice, like all the crops he grows, is pure organic with the last conventional farming having taken place there in 1990.

PRRM’s Jun had conducted a seminar about SRI in this community in Pampanga where Lito’s friend had attended. Lito was interested in getting more information about this technique and Jun soon visited his farm to discuss it.

Jun demonstrating transplanting of rice seedlings for SRI

SRI also is often used in conjunction with organic, biodynamic, permaculture and other natural farming methods.

I saw micro-organism fertilizers like the one to the left being developed for the soil as well as botanical weed and pest “repellents”. Lito informed me that if the plant he sees on his farm is green and healthy, then he knows he can use it to counter weeds and pests because it must have naturally occurring resistant and pest repellent qualities in its genetic material. Lito prefers to call them “repellents” rather than “pesticides” and “herbicides” which imply killing. SRI teaches farmers to do, not to buy, which also frustrates the commercial interests of corporate agribusiness.

Despite the benefits to the health of people and the environment, one of the great difficulties in encouraging the transition from conventional to organic or SRI techniques, according to Jun, is changing mindsets. This has been becoming and continues to be exceedingly important as a result of the globalizing forces of capitalism that continue to destroy biodiversity and the environment in general while at the same time jeopardizing family farming as a viable livelihood. There is a network of about 25 People’s Organizations (PO) in northern Luzon (where Pampanga is located) that help to encourage demonstration farms that highlight the benefits of ecological agriculture for improving livelihoods. Since the price of petroleum based inputs of conventional farming had begun to skyrocket with the rapidly increased price of oil last year, more farmers were looking for alternatives, especially in learning how to make botanical inputs such as fertilizers.

Currently, there is little additional value reflected in the price of organic produce in local markets. That gives farmers less incentive to switch than their counterparts in countries of Europe and North America. However, this is changing in Manila and SRI does present other cost savings and higher rice tiller yields that can act as economic inducements for farmers.

One of Lito's SRI demo plots

The good news is that when I visited again with Lito before I departed the Philippines, he spoke highly of SRI and planned to expand his trial plots. Through the work of individuals such as Jun working through people’s organizations like PRRM, positive impacts are being made for the social economy and the natural environment in the Philippines. More information about PRRM is at SRI in the Philippines in general here.

Since my return to Toronto, I have become aware of an organization that worked with a nonprofit group in Indonesia that is promoting SRI in that country. They developed a great short doc that you can view here.

* Uphoff, Norman (2004) “System of Rice Intensification responds to 21st Century needs” Rice Today. July-September 2004 p. 42