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A leading role for self-initiatives

Sustainable Agriculture and Appropriate Technology in the Philippines

by Victoria M. Lopez

The policy environment for the promotion of sustainable agriculture and appropriate technology in the Philippines is anything but favourable. Self-initiatives play a major role in efforts at establishing organic farming. The SIBAT network focuses particularly on the poorer farming population.

Efforts at SA/AT- Sustainable Agriculture and Appropriate Technology-in the Philippines are urged more by self-initiatives than by official policy. SIBAT (Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya) is one of many NGOs which have confronted problems posed by lack of coherent and potent policy to promote sustainable agriculture, i.e., the efforts to enhance agriculture in conjunction with natural resource base, ecology, and genuinely empowering community development. Strategies must be boldly taken to address this problem. In the following, the author takes a close look at informational strategy.

SA/AT's policy environment

Leading agricultural policy conditions in the Philippines could be described as a continuing subscription to unsustainable farming practices and agricultural development as a whole. The government's medium-term agricultural development programme, which is geared to intensified cash crop cultivation over diminished hectarages, implies the utilisation of the chemical-based genre of cropping systems accompanying a large-scale shift to monoculture.

While there is already some degree of articulation by executive agencies of the promotion of regenerative technologies, i.e., organic farming this does not jibe one-to-one with macro directions. The translation of such articulation to serious implementing guidelines is wanting. The agricultural research agenda provides some scope for R&D on lowinput but genetic engineering-based technologies; said researches are today subject to scrutiny pertaining to biosafety regulations. In the main, conventional researches continue to dominate the agricultural research scene.

At the locality level, the yardstick for SA adoption, SA collaborations between government and non-government entities face the dilemma of SA policy rhetoric addressing structurally-related elements of rural development while the conventional agricultural development framework yet prevails.

In these collaborations, ecological farming and forestry projects are seen to be weak in delivering the sustainability requirements determined by community needs, such projects being largely coupled to conventional strategies (i.e., commercial or exportation aims consistent with governmental objectives). In this sense, SA collaborations are seen to be still lodged within the conventional framework, where SA processes and premises end up as watered down attachments to the project design.

SA adoption in the country

At the upland on-farm community level (at slopes of 18 and above, which accounts for 57% of Philippine lands), SA programmes straddle over objectives ranging from raising food productivity to ecological/soil enhancement; technological measures similarly reflect a range, strongly addressing productivity and less on chemical input related issues. The uplands embrace a host of structural factors correlating to maintaining abject rural conditions aptly described by the 1996 World Bank's assessment of low quality of life in rural Philippines.

At the lowland on-farm community level, most SA replication successes have been at the individual farming household level, with conditions characterised by middlelevel income and land tenure security - hence with given capacity of the middle-income farmer to invest in time and effort to convert to SA - transform his farming system, and access to information for systems conversion and development.

In the lowlands, the apparent increase in the number of those who have opted to revert back to traditional systems would be more of a result of the fertiliser/pesticide price spiral, the inability of the poor farmer to meet the expensive demand of the highyield scheme rather than a conscious or policy-driven adoption of, or effort to convert to, the integrated organically-based systems.

The areas of SA adoption hover around just 0.01 percent of agricultural areas, largely at a demonstration scale. And the major share of SA efforts are self initiatives - people's organisations, NGOs - rather than policy inspired moves. They are indicative of SA promotion in the country proceeding at a pace that is urged by other factors, rather than by a favourable policy environment. It could be said that among these other factors, SA agencies stand as a quaint moving force, implementing SA largely through self-initiated efforts.

SlBAT's SA concept and strategy

These SA self-initiatives by Philippine NGOs and People's Organisations (POs) bear the bottom-line similarities of appealing to the environment and promoting organic farming. They differ, in emphasis among strategies, approaches and instruments, which include technology development, inter-agency cooperation and integrated systems approach.

The SIBAT Network, which has undertaken one of the oldest self-initiatives in Sustainable Agriculture (PAN-AP, Phil. Country Profile, 1995), has covered all three approaches and more, but has put greater emphasis on concern for the overwhelming poorer farming population.

Technologically, it has largely covered upland and rolling lowland-upland intermediate areas (in lower, middle and high altitude uplands), and has gone through a decade of a verification-demonstration phase on technologies for upland development. Today, it has embarked on community adoption scale.

In search for the technological alternatives to the Green Revolution, focus has thus been placed on developing and upgrading the traditional mode of production. Rich experience has been gained in almost a decade of SIBAT's work. During this period, it has concentrated its efforts and resources in technology verification and farm trials, documentation and information dissemination; training workshops and conferences on various fields of SA, as well as on the issues constraining SA promotion. It has, as well, facilitated support for the implementation of SA related projects of its members and their PO beneficiaries. In all, these efforts have contributed to the assertion of viability and appropriateness of SA to the situation and socio-economic needs of the farming communities.

Ground efforts and policy

SA efforts at the on-farm and community levels have increased perceptibly, in the face of constraints allowed and supported by policy conditions. Hence SIBAT saw the need to directly address policy. SIBAT has addressed the broad public, one, through fora and demonstration, specifically through the ECOFAIR, a trading fair and showcase of appropriate technology advances from the field level. SIBAT has managed SAN, the Sustainable Agriculture Newsletter, put together by a pool of SA agencies and individuals from the academe. In one case, SIBAT has initiated and linked efforts by entities in confronting the pesticide menace in the court and legislative arena.

In all these activities, SIBAT has endeavored to link local experience and policy formulation - a deductive approach to policy development, borne out of its intrinsic strength with ground experience.

SIBAT's SA concept rests on the belief that the availability of genetic resources is strategic to the success of sustainable agriculture and peoples' development. Without them, efforts in sustained and selfreliant alternative agriculture will not succeed. With increasing genetic uniformity, SIBAT's SA has been faced with the challenge of retrieval, propagation and dissemination of what genetic resources are yet on hand.

In this regard, establishing community seedbanks as a genetic conservation strategy is proven to be of qualitative significance in advancing sustainability in the farming system as farmers' hold on seeds is ensconced and strengthened. The CSBs have been constituted from an indigenous knowledge-base as collection repositories for retrieved varieties and as village centres for in-situ breeding, selection, and stock improvement. Pilot experience in regions has produced not merely a long list of seed material in the farmers' hands, but the condition of availability of seeds for year-round production.

SIBAT's concept of appropriate technology carries the varied premises of viability and adaptability to specific conditions, and serving the gains especially of the poorer rural sectors. One such technology that meets criteria mentioned is the Microhydro Technology (MHP).

The MHP is a technology that does not stand alone as an electrification source, but one which foremostly serves the identified economic needs of the community; MHPs serve the SA needs of agricultural communities. In such a community-based effort, the community is involved throughout most processes, and all other entities assist towards the direction of capacitating the PO for management.

The MHPs in the SIBAT Network have resulted in the electrification of the village, savings in kerosene wicklamp costs, and in payment responsibilities commensurate with all considerations including capacity to pay. There has been a tangible impact in that access and means to mill rice are cheaper, meaning real savings for the household.

Networking elements

The MHPs in the SIBAT Network have directly served the benefit of the women in the community, who have been traditionally charged with rice-pounding and other postharvest processing tasks, eased by the MHP device.

The MHPs in the SIBAT Network have been developed by combined efforts of member organisations and their appropriate technology personnel. An MHP unit is a result of an integration and sharing of efforts.

The CSB and MHP experiences demonstrate various networking elements at work: sharing of information and lessons, farmer-farmer seed exchanges (for the CSB), and, project co-operation by a group (for the MHP).

The above illustrations of self-initiative further demonstrate the role of careful research work and information build-up: a consolidation of the wealth of indigenous knowledge in the community, experiences written m case or technology literature, and experiences by other practitioners shared during trainings and farmer-farmer exchanges. These are attested to by instruction modules that are constantly expanded to incorporate incoming experiences.

Information thus flows out from sources to create SA realities on the ground. Looking anew, information from the ground can flow back to yet another level, that is, towards creating policy insights. The above experiences on CSBs and MHPs are a veritable source for influencing directions in the policy areas of genetic conservation and energy development.

Future concept and main adjustments

The challenge at present is to dare to upscale and push adoption in the face of the policy environment described. The networking instruments and strategies need to be further sharpened to meet the exigencies of the times, including policy constraints. Meanwhile, the challenge in the policy influencing arena is to find its link with SA initiatives and results. Information is one such link.

Sharpening the informational tool

In carrying out work on the ground, SIBAT has over the years rightfully given focus to informational capacity building among its programmes. In the early verification period, it built STRCC, the Science and Technology Resource Collection Center, an information centre unequalled in its wealth of SA material that has been amply utilised by researchers, students and NGO workers for such application areas as the CSB and the MHP projects.

STRCC has assisted in directly translating information, research and experiences, into useful material for direct usage by farmers. Today, STRCC consists of a growing documentational proof of SA viability.

Information is yet an area where SIBAT sees an exigency to continuously and boldly develop in this period. It has been recognised that the upscaling of SA in the mediumterm shall require corresponding improvement in information capacities and resources, and adjustment of strategies. The current situation calls for wider networking and exchange of information.

The problems that beset the present information capacity and system need addressing. One, research and documentation efforts to link practice and its results to policy advocacy have been weak. Results of SA practices either remain undocumented or in their raw unpackaged form, which is too weak to serve as basis for policy development as well as technology replication. This is also due to a lack of skills needed by agencies to transform research data into useful material.

Two, there is the inaccessibility of information sources and the difficulty to reach remote target areas. Most information compiled remains unaccessed or unused in the information centres, which, in turn, are usually located in urban areas.

Three, there is a lack of effective linkages among information centres, which have differing specialisation sujects and material. They are not effectively exchanged nor made known to other centres or to the interested public in general.

By and large, information (written, visual) has shown its potential as an instrument of self-initiative. It has contributed not only in increasing public awareness but in developing the current knowledge base for SA adoption. The SA information system has already been assigned its generic meaning (i.e., mix of traditional and modern knowledge systems where the former consists the base).

Role of modern information technology

Because information technology has advanced to its current state today, SA groups could appropriately utilise elements to enhance the in-formation build-up and exchange. Using the Electronic Bulletin Board (EBBS) will enable information sharing among network members and others.

Thus technical information and messages can easily be accessed by users equipped with only a personal computer, a modem and a telephone line. The EBBS is the simplest and cheapest means of information networking or link-up that will allow the required flow and exchange with the present capabilities by NGOs and POs.


The need to address policy development is an exigent issue which once it has been addressed, is believed to ease the path for SA promotion. SIBAT's current thrust on ground adoption attaches a great deal of importance to the subject of information, this time, to meet the challenge of linking work on the ground with influencing policy development.


Aux Philippines, la promotion de l'agriculture durable et des technologies appropri est plute fait d'initiatives priv que de la politique officielle. Tandis que le gouvernement mise sur les monocultures et les engrais chimiques, un grand nombre d'ONG et de groupements villageois se vent formpour dndre l'environnement et l'agriculture organique. Le rau SIBAT veut dlopper les modes culturales traditionnelles. Il a on actif l'organisation de snaires et d'ateliers et des mesures encourageant la crion de barques de semences villageoises en vue de prrver le patrimoine gtique pour l'agriculture.


En Filipinas, el empleo de mdos agropecuarios con efecto sostenible y el uso de tecnolog apropiadas se promueve mbien mediante iniciativas privadas que por intermedio de la polca oficial. Mientras que el gobierno apoya fuertemente el empleo de monocultivos y el uso de sustancias qucas, se hen formado gran cantidad de ONGs y grupos a nivel de los pueblos, los cuales se orientan hacia la utilizacie mdos ecolos y al fomento de la agricultura orgca. La red SIBAT incentiva primordialmente el uso de los mdos de cultivo tradicionales. SIBAT organiza seminarios y talleres, y promueve especialmente la creacie bancos de semillas a nivel de pueblos, a fin de preserver los recursos gencos de la agriculture.