2014 BEST AGRICULTURE FEATURE STORY (REGIONAL)

 

"Bug slay, nature's way"

By Cherry Ann T. Lim

Sun Star Cebu

 

'Bug slay, nature's way" (FIRST OF TWO PARTS)

Farm drills and parasites

Chemical pesticide-free farming possible, but farmers don’t want it Special Report

AT THE supermarket, health-conscious consumers study the flawless fruits and vegetables on display, fearful that the unblemished produce may have been untouched by pests because it was heavily sprayed with pesticides harmful to humans.

Recognizing these risks, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has joined a global effort to provide alternatives to the use of chemical pesticides. But the uptake by farmers has been slow. This two-part special report explains why.

From 1950 to 2000, the Philippines added 55.7 million people to its population, placing tenth among the countries with the largest population increases over the 50- year period, said the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Population Division.

As rapidly growing nations increased food production, global dependence on pesticides led to environmental pollution, degradation of soil fertility, and higher costs to manage pests, said Uma Shankar and Dharam P. Abrol in the 2012 publication “Integrated Pest Management: Principles and Practice” produced for Cab International, an inter-governmental, non-profit organization set up by a United Nations treaty to undertake research and development in agriculture and the environment. They called for the wider use of biological methods to control agricultural pests.

At the DA 7, Regional Crop Protection Center (RCPC) chief Bert Castillo said, “We’re now promoting an integrated pest management strategy,” which includes using

field sanitation and the natural enemies of pests, instead of synthetic pesticides, to control the pests.

He said the switch came also after “researchers noted that pesticide alone was not very effective as a pest management strategy.”

But with the agricultural ecosystem disturbed by decades of pesticide use, the natural enemies of pests have dwindled in number, so the RCPC has to grow them.

“Most of our pesticides are broad spectrum, like Thiodan (generic name endosulfan),” said Castillo. “Almost all organisms were killed because they are non- selective. (But) now we have selective pesticides.”

Synthetic

Synthetic pesticides were first used in 1940. Organochlorine pesticides (OCP) like DDT and endosulfan have since been found to resist environmental breakdown and accumulate in fish, wildlife and human tissues, raising concern about endocrine and developmental effects in children, said the World Health Organization in 2008.

As a result, all OCPs are now banned worldwide, except for endosulfan, said Abrol and Shankar. They said endosulfan is banned in some nations and “parts of the Philippines.”

“Thiodan is now restricted to plantations in Mindanao,” Castillo confirmed. But he said enforcement of the restriction was hampered by the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority’s (FPA) limited manpower and lack of police power.

Selective pesticides, less harmful to the environment, are now available, he said, the most commonly used being cypermethrin, cyfluthrin and deltamethrin.

These have low pre-harvest intervals—the time between the last application of

the pesticide and the safe harvesting of the crops for immediate consumption—of two to seven days. Any chemical residue on the crop at harvest would no longer be hazardous to humans, he said.

In its website, the FPA lists 28 banned and restricted pesticides in the country. It also lists the agricultural pesticides more than 150 firms registered with the authority.

Growing enemies

The RCPC in Barangay Maguikay, Mandaue City, grows natural enemies of pests that ravage rice, corn and vegetable fields in Central Visayas.

“In the lab, we mass produce parasitoids for rice and corn. This is given free to farmers,” said Castillo.

Trichogramma, a tiny wasp about 0.5-1.0 mm long, is produced in different strains for rice, corn and vegetables to control the stem borer moth. (See table on next page.)

In rice, stem borers attack at any stage of the plant, causing “dead heart” or drying of the tillers (side shoots), and “whiteheads,” where the emerging panicles are white and empty, said the International Rice Research Institute.

An egg parasitoid, the Trichogramma lays its egg inside the stem borer’s egg, using it as nourishment for the developing wasp larva. “No more worm of the stem borer will emerge. In one or two days, what will emerge will be the Trichogramma,” Castillo said.

Trichogramma has been used in rice fields in Cebu for some five years and corn fields for 10 years. The RCPC distributes Trichogramma parasitized eggs on hollowed- out cards about double the size of a calling card.

One hectare needs 50 cards. Each card has 1,000-1,500 individuals, he said. Trichogramma should be applied in the field three weeks after planting.

Their own labs

“We’re encouraging local government units (LGUs) to put up their own laboratories because the problem is the transport of the Trichogramma. If you don’t refrigerate it, it will emerge in two days’ time because it is already alive,” he said.

He said the parasitized eggs in the refrigerator should not be exposed to too much cold either or they will water.

Castillo said the Dumaguete City LGU, through the Provincial Agriculturist, has a lab, but Trichogramma production there is low. “Maybe it’s not their priority,” he said.

In Bayawan City, Negros Oriental, village-type Trichogramma production in a hut was not sustained, while efforts by municipal agriculturists in Jagna and Duero, Bohol to put up labs have been stymied by changes in local executives and delays in the processing of papers, he said.

To produce Trichogramma, one must produce the host, which is the stem borer. But the RCPC instead uses the rice moth, a post-harvest pest, as host for all its Trichogramma strains. “The stem borer is hard to grow because you need a live plant,” Castillo said.

Black bug

The RCPC also produces microbes. For the sap-feeding rice black bug, which is about nine mm in length and 4-5 mm in width, it produces the fungus Metarhizium.

“You spray this fungus instead of a pesticide,” Castillo said. “This will grow inside the body of the pest, and the pest will die of dehydration.”

A hectare of rice will need four one-kilo packs of the DA’s Metarhizium. Each kilo contains “millions of individual spores,” he said. There are different strains of Metarhizium for rice and coconut.

Or one could just catch the light-seeking black bugs. Lure them with bright light during a full moon, hit them as they approach, and shovel them into sacks when they fall.

Castillo said the rice bug population in Central Visayas is now normal, or below the economically damaging level of 10 individuals per rice plant. The DA does not aim to eradicate the bug, originally from Malaysia.

“They are already part of the system. We just manage them to a level that’s not damaging,” he said.

Production problems

At one time, the RCPC also reared the Diadegma parasitoid to control the diamondback moth (DBM), whose larva feeds on the leaves of cabbage and other crucifers (leafy vegetables) like cauliflower, broccoli and bok choy (pechay), causing defoliation and malformation of heads.

From 1995 to 2000, the Diadegma wasp, which parasitizes DBM larvae, was released in Dalaguete town, home to Barangay Mantalongon, Cebu’s vegetable basket.

But Diadegma production stopped at the DA 7 due to the lack of space and the departure of the person in charge of the production.

The DA sought to shift production to Mantalongon. But Dalaguete agricultural technician Macario Moya said a lab in the village run by the farmers’ association met

problems with the tedious Diadegma production that required expertise and spending on a caretaker and materials.

Rearing the Diadegma requires first rearing the diamondback moth on which the Diadegma feeds; rearing the DBM in turn means rearing the cabbage it feeds on.

Dalaguete Municipal Agriculture and Natural Resources Office head Expedizitas Lenares said the LGU was to contribute 10-15 percent of the lab’s cost, but in 2000, the Solid Waste Management Act was passed, and the funds were diverted to a project involving a cover for the town’s sanitary landfill and vermicomposting.

Sanitation

Castillo said in integrated pest management, one can also avoid pesticides by enforcing “sanitation,” which means removing shoots and fruits damaged by borers and burning them in a hole in the ground so the pests don’t emerge.

“A female moth can lay 50-200 eggs,” he said. The stem borer’s life stages are egg, the destructive stage larva (worm), pupa (cocoon), and moth (adult).

But he said farmers just leave damaged fruits and shoots on plants, finding it tedious to do sanitation.

Rotten plants infested with fungi should also be removed. He said too much nitrogen, which fertilizers contain, makes plants soft and easy for worms and fungi to attack.

Synchronous planting will also deprive pests of food. “Plant in all areas at the same time, so there is a (common) fallow period,” he said.

In Bohol, because of synchronous planting, black bugs are no longer too much of a problem.

But in Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental, planting is overlapping, so the bugs always have a food source. “We cannot dictate to the farmer when to plant. And they can plant all the time because water there is abundant,” he said.

Short cut

Asked why farmers don’t use the Trichogramma and other natural pest control methods when they are free, Castillo said farmers want a quick solution.

“When they use (chemical) sprays, they like seeing the pests fall right away. You won’t see that with Trichogramma,” Castillo said.

It takes a year to establish the Trichogramma population in the field, said Dr. Roldan Saragena, chief of the Cebu Provincial Agriculture Office.

The low cost of chemical pesticides compared to other farm inputs may also be a reason farmers don’t rush to avail themselves of the free alternatives.

Bureau of Agricultural Statistics figures show that when the cash, non-cash and imputed costs of seeds, fertilizer, mulching materials, labor, land tax, rentals, fuel and oil, electricity, transport, irrigation, food, depreciation and interest on crop loans were added up, pesticides accounted for just three percent of the costs of growing rice, corn and carrots in 2012.

For cabbage, it was five percent; eggplant and tomato, over nine percent; mango, almost 11 percent. Fertilizers cost more than the pesticides, and labor more than the fertilizers.

Local agriculture officials also say farm yields are the same whether chemical sprays or Trichogramma is used.

Manpower

In Argao, Cebu, municipal rice technician Larie Baricuatro said Trichogramma use helps the environment.

“With Trichogramma, you control before the stem borers hatch. With chemicals, you kill the adults, but it’s possible they were already able to lay eggs,” she said.

But she said only 10 percent of farms with stem borers in the town use the wasp because their distance from the town office contributes to their lack of awareness of or access to it.

“Farmers won’t have access to the Trichogramma if we don’t bring it to them. They won’t spend time looking for bio-control methods themselves,” she said.

But her office lacks the manpower to attend to all the farms. “There are only four technicians—one for rice, corn, livestock and high-value crops. But on a regular basis, there are only two of us because the one for livestock is now also our head of office,” said Baricuatro, who travels three hours from Argao to Mandaue City, six hours both ways, four times a year to get Trichogramma cards from the RCPC.

Argao farmer Jorge Omboy confirmed that the local agriculture office was too far from his farm to go to for bio-control products. His friend said they couldn’t call the office either because “wa man mi (we have no) cell phone.”

Besides, Omboy isn’t sold on bio-control. He argued with those conducting a Trichogramma demonstration in his farm, saying, “Di ra man borer ang kontra sa humay (the borer is not the only pest of rice).”

Trichogramma use would mean not spraying chemicals for two weeks (to prevent the sprays from killing the Trichogramma). This means the farmers wouldn’t be able to kill the other insects on the farm either.

Farm visit

In Toledo City, Cebu, rice technician Libertine Bucao said farmers use Trichogramma in combination with chemicals. But they wouldn’t need the chemicals if they just visited their farms. “After planting, farmers should visit their farms daily. Once they see insects flying, they should look for the eggs right away and crush them. The stem borer’s egg is usually hidden under the leaves,” she said.

For corn pests, Toledo City corn coordinator Salvador Lorica Jr. said the city’s farmers use the RCPC’s Trichogramma and earwig.

The earwig insect preys on the eggs, larvae and pupae of corn borers and other lepidopterous pests (which are pests with four membranous wings covered with small scales like the diamondback moth). “What the Trichogramma did not eat, the earwig will,” he said.

His focus is Barangay Sangi, where planting is continuous at three croppings a year, resulting in yearlong infestation. Farmers hit the borers with the chemical Furadan, though the DA discourages its use, he said.

Maggots

In Balamban town, Cebu, municipal agriculturist and corn coordinator Felogyn Sundo said their problem is the whorl maggots on the sweet corn along the Transcentral Highway that attack the young leaves of seedlings, delaying plant growth. Farmers control these also with Furadan.

“But this (Furadan use) is regulated. We discourage this because it is systemic. Ang hilo moabot sa dahon (The poison reaches the leaves), stem, much more sa bunga (the fruit),” he said.

The chemical stays in the corn for 30 days, he said.

In its website, Furadan maker FMC Corp. said Furadan (carbofuran) is used in more than 80 countries commonly to protect rice and corn crops. It also said it was in a court battle with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the continued use of carbofuran after the EPA cited ecological, occupational and dietary risks of using the product.

To reduce pesticide use, Sundo said, some farmers just plant native varieties of corn because these have resistance to native pests.

Balancing act

Even if all Cebu farmers were to use natural enemies to fight pests, however, with the environment open, synthetic pesticide use still could not be eliminated.

For instance, Dr. Saragena said, the diamondback moth was already controlled in Cebu in 1995-1996 using Diadegma semiclausum. But it returned because another pest came—the whitefly, which attacked cabbage, eggplant, tomato, beans and other vegetables.

“The farmers resorted to chemical sprays, killing the Diadegma with the whiteflies,” he said.

He said the DA tried spraying the Metarhizium fungus on the whitefly, and it worked, but distribution of the Metarhizium was limited.

Without chemical sprays, he said, whiteflies can wipe out 90 percent of a farm.

He said it is easy for new pests to arrive, as they can come with cuttings of plants; or through insect eggs that stick to people’s clothes when they visit farms, or with seeds of exotic (non-indigenous) plants smuggled in by some farmers.

He said the Philippine cobra reached Bohol province after some of its eggs were inadvertently brought there with the food for horses sent from Davao.

Resist change

Saragena’s office has been training farmers on natural pest control methods, but farmers resist them because they require time, money or a change in habits.

He cited crop rotation. “If you plant this vegetable this season, you should plant another vegetable next season to break the cycle of growth of the pest population” because pests are usually plant specific, he said.

But he said some farmers don’t do this because they have already established expertise and a market for a particular type of plant.

“You should have a wide market,” he said, offering the services of his office to link farmers with buyers.

Saragena said farmers could also buy pest-resistant varieties from seed firms. But some don’t because they prefer the open-pollinated variety of plants, whose seeds for the next cropping season they can get from the field, unlike with hybrid varieties where they have to keep buying new seeds.

“There’s also consumer preference. They like the Casino 901 variety of eggplant, a locally produced hybrid. This is long, shiny and purple, unlike the native eggplant that is short, and has white strips and thick skin,” he said.

A study by M.T. Caasi-Lit of UP Los Baños et al. showed, however, that Casino 901 has only intermediate resistance to the leafhopper and eggplant borer, which means there is a greater need to use pesticides on it.

But Saragena said effective natural pest management begins with proper land

preparation.
Pests at the cocoon stage can usually be found under the soil. Plowing will

unearth them, and the exposure to sunlight will dry them up and kill them, he said.

Chemical misuse

Saragena said the reason chemical sprays are not always effective in managing pests is farmers don’t follow the dosage and usage instructions, changing the effect of the chemicals on the pest. “The pest no longer dies,” he said.

Some chemicals should also not be mixed together, but farmers do “cocktailing” or apply different chemicals at the same time, to get their work over and done with.

With the low acceptance of bio-control methods to manage pests, he said tougher action may be needed against farmers. “In other countries, they are forced to use biocon because their products won’t be accepted if these have high chemical residue. Here, we can’t even monitor if the farmer will not follow the pre-harvest interval.”

He cited the case of Cebu clients with vegetable suppliers from Mindanao. “If the boat arrives late, the client here will ask the local farmers for vegetables. Even if they sprayed the plants yesterday, the farmers will sell the produce to the client because the client says he needs it because the supply from his regular supplier did not arrive.”

Monitoring the safety of produce at the farm gate, however, will require manpower and a budget that the government doesn’t even have today to produce and promote bio-control products in the quantities and varieties needed. (Tomorrow: Dalaguete’s natural pesticide champions)

Biological control methods to control pests available

at Department of Agriculture 7

◘ Metarhizium anisopliae (fungus) – to control rice black bug, Brontispa beetle (in coconut), and termites (in homes)
◘ Earwig (insect) – for corn borer and other lepidopterous pests ◘ Trichogramma japonicum (wasp) – for rice stem borers
◘ Trichogramma evanescens (wasp) – for corn stem borers
◘ Trichogramma chilonis (wasp) – for borers of vegetables, like eggplant, tomato, cabbage

"Bug slay, nature's way" (LAST OF TWO PARTS)

Saying it with flowers and formulations

Dalaguete’s natural pesticide champions show results, resolve to convert non-believers

Special Report

By Cherry Ann T. Lim

Sun.Star Cebu, August 28, 2014 Others Section, Page 10

YEARS ago, the foul odor of chemical pesticides signaled one’s arrival in Barangay Mantalongon, Dalaguete town, Cebu.

Today, the stench is gone in Cebu’s vegetable basket because wasps, flowers

and other gifts of nature help rein in pests that harm the village’s crops, enabling farmers to reduce their use of chemical pesticides.

Vegetables require more chemical sprays than rice and corn, said Cebu Provincial Agriculture Office chief Dr. Roldan Saragena, making Dalaguete a focal point for natural pest control strategies.

Of Dalaguete’s 33 barangays, 16 produce vegetables, with Mantalongon being the biggest village, said Expedizitas Lenares, head of Dalaguete’s Municipal Agriculture and Natural Resources Office (Manro).

“Eighty percent of vegetables in Carbon Market, Cebu City’s largest public market, comes from Dalaguete. And some of the vegetables sent to Carbon are sold to neighboring provinces like Bohol and Leyte,” said Lenares, a 2013 Dangal ng Bayan awardee of the Civil Service Commission for providing sustainable programs and technologies to the town’s farmers and fishermen.

Dalaguete agricultural technician Macario Moya said from 1995 to 2000, the Department of Agriculture (DA) 7’s Regional Crop Protection Center (RCPC) released the Diadegma wasp in 11 of the town’s villages to control the diamondback moth (DBM), the top pest of cabbage, pechay, broccoli and cauliflower plants, resulting in the Diadegma now naturally occurring in the area.

The Diadegma, whose larva parasitizes the DBM’s larva, has enabled farmers in the area to cut chemical pesticide application by 25 percent, he said. And he expects a further drop in chemical use with the expected increase in population of the earwig, an insect released two years ago for the control of corn borers and other lepidopterous pests.

Astro (permethrin), DuPont Prevathon (chlorantraniliprole) and Voliam Flexi are the chemical sprays used to control the DBM, but Moya said these were not very strong chemicals. Other farmers, he said, had gone organic and tried to shun synthetic pesticides altogether.

Labels

Moya said Mantalongon’s foul smell came from its use of “red label pesticides,” which leave chemical residue on plants up to 30 days after application and are “poisonous” to people. He said such pesticides are now banned in the market. He cited the chemical Methamidophos as systemic and having harmful effects, causing vegetable farmers’ wives to suffer miscarriages or produce special children.

Other classifications of pesticide, Moya said, were yellow label, which are “still poisonous, but have a lower pre-harvest interval (PHI) of 14-15 days,” and blue and green label pesticides with PHIs of one week and two days, respectively. PHI is the time between the last application of the pesticide and the safe harvesting of the crops for immediate consumption.

Aggressive sellers

Pesticides are very accessible to farmers. They are sold in agricultural supply stores, and at the Mantalongon farming and trading center and the town’s six satellite markets.

So Lenares plans to recommend to the Sangguniang Bayan the accreditation of pesticide suppliers to enable the local government unit (LGU) to indicate the products the suppliers can sell. Manro would ensure compliance with random checks on sellers’ shelves. “This can be conducted by the Business Permit and Licensing Office,” she

said.
At present, commercial suppliers of pesticides can reach farmers faster than the

town’s agricultural technicians. “They also offer promos and incentives like jackets, boots, gear, sprayers, hats and samples,” which entice farmers to buy their products, she said.

Moya said aggressive sales tactics by company technicians included encouraging the misuse of their products. He cited a foreign firm’s fungicide intended for foliar application on mango trees now used by farmers on vegetables.

The PHI of 55 days, he said, is all right for mango trees, since it is applied only on their leaves and it takes long to harvest mangoes, but not for vegetables.

He said when he confronted the company’s technicians, telling them, “You have no social concern,” they replied that they were just following their employers’ orders.

Even with accreditation, though, chemical pesticide use would still not be completely controlled. Some of the town’s farmers sell their produce directly to buyers in Carbon Market, so when they go there to sell their produce, they might buy their pesticides there, Lenares said.

To encourage the farmers to reduce their synthetic pesticide use, the Manro proposes to spare farmers using organic pesticides or fertilizers from paying the user’s tax in the satellite markets. The tax is for the use of the market facilities, like the weighing scale. It is 10 percent of the value of the crops they bring.

Mitigating measures

On the field, Dalaguete is showing the power of the natural environment to protect crops from pests.

Where before chemical sprays were used to control the sap-sucking whiteflies that plagued vegetable fields, today, Lenares said, “mitigating measures” involve just planting yellow flowering plants on the boundaries and contours or in the middle of crops to repel them.

Moya said plants like marigold and iring-iring are smelly and glaring, repelling whiteflies and other pests, except for the diamondback moth.

For the DBM, he said, Brgy. Babayongan had found a weapon in weeds that grew tall, spurting yellow flowers that the DBM prefers, sparing the farmers’ vegetables. Such plants, which take attention away from the target crops of pests, are called “trap crops.”

In the 2013 book “Weed and Pest Control - Conventional and New Challenges,” Joyce E. Parker et al. suggest that instead of repelling pests with their odor, marigolds intercropped with broccoli, the target crop of pests, may be masking the odor of the broccoli or visually camouflaging the vegetable to make it less apparent to the pests.

Moya said since the DBM (which attacks cabbage) also doesn’t like the smell of sibuyas (spring onions) and the tomato, one can plant these beside the cabbage.

Demo farm

A good example of the use of nature to produce chemical-free vegetables is the Cang-ibang Nucleus Farm in Mantalongon developed by the LGU through an agreement with the Centino family, owners of the lot, Moya said.

In the LGU-funded farm, farmers paid by the town tend to 1.8 hectares planted to spring onions, Chinese cabbage (ombok pechay), cabbage, beans and carrots. In charge of the plot is farm manager Gregorio Fajardo.

The farm, two years old this November, has yellow boundaries of wild sunflower to distract whiteflies from the vegetable cash crops. The madre de cacao in the interior of the farm is used for a botanical spray. The leaves are ground, then diluted in water and sprayed to repel insects like whiteflies and the DBM. Tanglad (lemongrass) also repels insects with its pungent smell.

And across the road from the farm is the iring-iring (also called kanding-kanding or baho-baho), whose nectar attracts the Diadegma beneficial to cruciferous vegetables.

Concoctions

Fajardo has his own farm where his spring onions are attacked by leaf miners, army worms and the golden Japanese snail. To control them, he makes the “Oriental herbal nutrient,” which is a kilo of molasses and a kilo of ginger fermented in a bottle of beer for 15-30 days. After diluting this, putting two tablespoons of the concentrate into a liter of water makes it ready to spray on the spring onions.

He learned about this alternative to chemical sprays during an RCPC 7 seminar last year. The concoction, costing just P185, can be used for more than a year on a 1,000-square-meter lot, compared to a regular chemical spray at P500/kilo that may last for only half a year.

His formula

In the private sector, Dalaguete’s natural pesticide champions have an ally in James Aguilar, 33, a farmer tireless in spreading the gospel of chemical pesticide-free farming.

In Mantalongon, Aguilar has five farms where he plants lettuce, cabbage and

gabi (taro).
To combat the DBM, whitefly and army worm that hit his lettuce and cabbage, he

uses the roots of the tubli vine (Derris elliptica). He first buries them for a week in fresh mud, then extracts the juice, to which he adds water for a spray that can be used as a green label natural pesticide.

Pests that get hit by the spray or eat the plant sprayed with the spray die, said Aguilar of the tubli, which is also used to poison unwanted fish species.

Wilma Dichoso, in a 2000 Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) report, cited tubli as effective in killing “pea aphids, corn borers, bean beetles” and even mosquitoes, household flies and pet pests without harming their hosts.

Aguilar said it has been hard to convince farmers, used to applying chemicals, to use his formulation, but he now has a few buyers in barangays Mantalongon, Manlapay and Langkas.

Aguilar has also formulated a fungicide made from dried tobacco leaves. From the Internet, he learned to dry the leaf without the sun. He puts it in a shaded area until it dies, which is about two weeks. Then he dilutes 1/4 kilo of tobacco leaves in a liter of water to make a concentrate. From this concentrate, the farmer can get 10 tablespoons and dilute them in 16 liters of water for a ready-to-spray solution.

“The fungicide can be used for rice, corn, vegetables, even bonsai, and costs just 1/3 of the price of a chemical spray,” he said.

Few, good men

Aguilar and Moya are part of a group of only 15 organic farming advocates in barangays Mantalongon and Tabon. The group employs the natural farming system,

and Aguilar regularly sends his concoctions to them for efficacy tests in various settings, like upland and midland, which have different climates and terrains.

Aguilar also created a fungicide using the imported Habanero chili, said to be the world’s hottest chili. A seed from Mexico was given to Moya and a friend by a German they met at an organic congress in Palawan in 2009. They gave the seed to Aguilar to plant. Aguilar now sells the chili to Mexican restaurants in Cebu.

To make the fungicide, he puts the chili in a blender and dilutes it in water. Very potent, just a small amount is used.

A Leyte native, Aguilar studied agriculture there before moving to Cebu six years ago because his wife hails from Mantalongon.

He lamented that while still in Leyte 10 years ago, no one believed in him, and the organic products he processed found no takers. After finding a kindred spirit in Moya in Cebu, the two are now partners in producing an organic soil enhancer product that they have begun exporting to Mexico.

Edible

Despite his support for natural farming, Aguilar draws the line at eating pests to control their numbers, recoiling at the suggestion when faced with a garden snail (Helix aspersa).

Dr. Saragena said some pests are edible, like the exotic golden kuhol (Pomacea canalicuta or golden apple snail), a rice pest originally from South America, and taklong (forest snail), a vegetable pest.

But he did not consider the smelly giant African land snails (Achatina fulica) that ravaged corn, guyabano and vegetable fields in Samboan and Oslob towns last April

edible, even if Capitol consultant Dr. Romulo Davide said they were brought to the country during World War 2 for food. He advised killing and burying them to serve as organic fertilizer.

In Pampanga, locusts are cooked adobo style. But in Cebu, no one eats them, Saragena said. Rather, “stand-by chemicals” are used to address the locusts that appear in San Remigio and Medellin towns in northern Cebu.

DA 7 information officer Marilyn Talagon said one reason eating field pests is not popular is that it is not known where a pest that appears in one’s farm came from. It could have been exposed to toxic chemical sprays in other areas.

Budget and effort

Aguilar estimates that organic farms comprise only three percent of farms in Mantalongon, with organic farm meaning they are still using synthetic fertilizer but less of the synthetic pesticide.

Farmers don’t use natural pest management, he said, because organic farming requires more effort, as one would still have to make his own pesticide.

He said the government also probably lacks the budget to give more of the natural enemies of pests to the farmers for free, so a subsidy program may be in order.

He said municipal technicians had no budget to do training in different areas. “Maybe only 30 percent of farmers in Mantalongon are aware of the GAP standard,” he said.

GAP certification

GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) are specific methods in agriculture to address food quality, safety and security concerns. For the Food and Agriculture Organization

(FAO) of the United Nations, it involves principles, first presented in 2003, to protect the food chain while promoting environmental, social and economic sustainability.

Citing the slow progress in reducing world hunger by half by 2015—a commitment governments made under the World Food Summit Plan of Action and the Millennium Development Goals—the 2003 17th Session on the Development of a Framework for GAP by the FAO Committee on Agriculture in Rome prescribed voluntary steps by governments, the private sector, non-government organizations and civil society “to promote sustainable agriculture and natural resources management” to bring about food security and improved livelihoods.

Moya said that with GAP, for example, crop areas must be cordoned off to prevent animals from defecating on the produce; there should be a stockroom to separate fertilizers and chemicals from the medicine kit for farmers; there should be toilets for farm workers; and there should be a cleaning area for vegetables, so these are not placed on the ground and contaminated.

He said GAP is a move toward organic farming, and there is already a national standard developed by the DA’s Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Product Standards that is being harmonized with the international standard.

The Organic Agriculture Act of 2010 defines organic agriculture as “ecologically sound, socially acceptable, economically viable and technically feasible” food production that “reduces external inputs by refraining from the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and pharmaceuticals.”

The Philippine GAP standards were developed in 2005 to improve the marketability of Philippine fruits and vegetables. In the same year, DA Administrative

Order 25 set guidelines on the granting of GAP certification in the fruit and vegetable sector to individual growers or farms, and the organizations that market and trade their produce.

Certified farms may use the Good Agriculture Practice for Fruits and Vegetables Farming mark on their produce, in advertising and in letterheads.

But going pesticide free is not that easy. Aguilar cites the problems of early adoption.

“If you’re the only one using organic, while other farmers around you use chemicals, the pests will transfer to the organic farm. That’s why everyone will just use chemicals, making the pests immune (to the chemicals),” he said.

Moya said the solution is a protective covering called a tunnel, which is like a small greenhouse forming an arch rising one meter from the ground to cover the plants. But he said one roll of this UV-treated transparent plastic or solarplex tunnel costs P12,000 at 2.5 meters by 100 meters. It will cover only eight plots of 10 meters each.

The Manro is undeterred. “This year, we hope to have testing of chemical residue of products in the market. Before harvesting, the farmer will bring a sample to the market for the mini lab to examine,” said Moya. The presence of chemical residue will be determined in five minutes.

This is a project of the Manro and the German Foundation Apos-OurFood.

“Farms will be clustered. The first batch will have 200 farmers taken from the 16 barangays. They will be trained in GAP this year. One manager will be assigned per 10 farms to do recordkeeping to monitor which farms bring crops with heavy residue to market and which don’t,” he said.

If the product is found to have high residue, the farmer will be advised to harvest it in one to two days yet, he said.

The Dalaguete Vegetable Grower Association will conduct the pesticide testing using the rapid-testing kit given by the foundation. The foundation’s program will run until 2017, assuring supply of the kits at least until then.

In the first three-year phase of the program, they trained farmers and stakeholders, from production to marketing to retailers, on the importance of GAP, Moya said. They are now in the second three-year phase of the program.

Health

But whether the effort to reduce chemical pesticide use in Dalaguete has resulted in fewer health problems for its residents at least, remains a question.

Dr. Renan Cimafranca, head of the Department of Health (DOH) 7’s Regional Epidemiological Surveillance Unit, said depending on the pesticide, skin contact may cause cancer, inhalation may bring respiratory problems, and anomalies may occur in pregnancies. But he said toxicology tests on blood samples would be needed to establish exposure.

Dr. Jose Edgar Alonso, head of Dalaguete’s Rural Health Unit 1, said that while theoretically speaking, the widespread use of chemical pesticides could lead to chronic poisoning, the signs of which include dizziness and sweating as the pesticides are released from fatty issues, and that these have been noted in some farmers, it “can’t be proven that pesticides were the cause” or even that the pesticides are “tied to cancer.”

In the early 1980s, he said, a study was made on congenital birth defects in the town, but no studies were done on the soil and water to establish a link with pesticide

use. He said while there continue to be many cases of unintended abortions of pregnant women and birth defects today, without such studies, they could not be linked to pesticides.

Two years ago, the DOH 7 studied pesticide use and neonatal deaths in Dalaguete, but the doctor behind the study left Cebu without leaving the results, if any, with the DOH.

Without a clear idea whether the reduction in chemical pesticide use has reduced the risks on their health, Dalaguete’s farmers will rely mainly on government regulation, and not personal or consumer benefit, to guide them in their decision to adopt natural pest management. 

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