Organic smallholders are cultivating resilient rice systems
In the Philippines, organic rice systems are proving to be more climate resilient than conventional rice systems. This is according to a Self-evaluation and Holistic Assessment of climate Resilience of farmers and Pastoralists (SHARP), a methodological tool developed by a team at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
The results of recent research, published in a special issue on Agriculture/Food Systems and Climate Change in the Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems journal, reveal that organic smallholders exhibit greater adaptive capacity due to containing higher crop, farm and landscape-level diversity. They have higher potential for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and reducing environmental degradation due to engaging in more water conservation practices, land and soil improvement measures, and relying less on external inputs and more on bio-regionally available natural resources to manage their farms. They also demonstrate more household and community mechanisms significant for reducing vulnerability, including producing their own farm inputs and maintaining a record of management practices and traditional knowledge of climate change.
It is the ability to simultaneously address adaptation, mitigation, and vulnerability that makes organic smallholders more resilient than their conventional counterparts.
The significance of rice in the Philippines
As one of the foremost countries at risk to climate change, there is a sense of urgency surrounding the viability of rice systems in the Philippines. This is because rice is the largest contributor to calories derived from cereals and the number one agricultural commodity in the country. About a third of the labor force works in agriculture and is largely engaged in rice production. Rice systems are also responsible for over half of the country’s agricultural-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Additionally, rice technologies and innovations that are presented as climate interventions are also heavily contested. In one camp, you have proponents of conventional agriculture endeavoring to improve yields to support smallholder livelihoods, but at the cost of capital intensive inputs. In another camp, you have farmers’ organizations coalescing to campaign for farmer control of agricultural resources and an end to dependencies on capital intensive inputs. The latter camp identifies organic agriculture as a vector for empowering farmers and severing such dependences.
The urgency to ensure rice systems thrive under changing climate conditions is complicated by the fact that rice systems are intricately woven into the socioecological fabric of the Philippines. When we asked what was needed to improve their resilience to climate change, smallholders indicated that they need access to land, veterinary services, crop and livestock insurance, and microfinancing. They identified government and NGOs as key to addressing the socioeconomic conditions that limit farmers’ capacities to invest in the future and buffer against anticipated climate-related shocks and disturbances. Such expressions counter the current institutional trend and tendency to direct substantial funding towards developing agricultural technologies that are eventually made available through commercial and market mechanisms.
The benefits of organic rice farming are not new to the over 30,000 MASIPAG organic farmers. Nor is it overlooked by the Philippine government since the passing of the 2010 Organic Agriculture Act. But in spite of over four decades of an organic movement and recent institutional support, less than 2 percent of the Philippine agricultural landscape is organic. The question we should be asking is why? Why does organic agriculture remain at the fringes of agricultural development in the Philippines? Why has the transition been slow in comparison to the rapid agricultural transition that occurred with the Green Revolution?
We explore these questions in a forthcoming paper, taking a deep dive into Philippine agricultural history, and analyzing the institutions and structural mechanisms behind agricultural transition. If organic rice systems cultivate greater climate resilience, align with peasant advocacies, and are consistent with government policies, then the institutional and structural levers for transitioning to organic need to be identified and mobilized.
Cultivating climate resilience: a participatory assessment of organic and conventional rice systems in the Philippines. Heckelman A, Smukler S, Wittman H (2018). Published in the June 2018 Special Issue in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 33, 225–237. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1742170517000709 for free until 31st July 2018
Amber A. Heckelman
Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, University of British Columbia
My twitter handle: @aahware
Other twitter accounts: @smsmukler @HWittmanUBC @fao @ubcLFS
Photos by Amber Heckelman
1. (large photo above) Smallholders in rice field, Negros Occidental, Philippines
2. Organic smallholder, Negros Occidental, Philippines
3. Smallholder harvesting rice, Negros Occidental, Philippines
4. Organic smallholder, Negros Occidental, Philippines
5. Sustainable Farming Collective in Negros Occidental, Philippines