Friday, November 18, 2016

Countless Lessons Filipinos Should Learn from OMRO (Organikong Magsasaka ng Rehiyon Otso)

Sometime last year, a group of farmers from Region 8 met during an Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) seminar on Organic Agriculture Internal Control Systems (ICS). Mike Pedroso recalled talking with his fellow farmers during the five-day seminar where they all agreed that the 'high' they get from those kinds of trainings usually last for about two weeks before it wanes … and only returns when the next training happens.

OMRO entrusts these planting materials to poor farmers
who need a push in the right direction
"So we decided to organize ourselves so we can help other farmers beyond the government's reach," shared Mike. Thus, Organikong Magsasaka ng Rehiyon Otso (OMRO) or Organic Farmers of Region 8 was born, composed of members coming from the six provinces of Eastern Visayas.

Recently, our group of Organic Agriculture Bloggers met several OMRO members in Mike Pedroso Farms located in Calbayog, Samar. There, we were invited to join their tree growing activity (read all about it here) and were inspired by each of their stories on how they struggled to develop their farms, found success through hard work, and are now helping other farmers.

Jun Paredes, OMRO President, believes that small things
can lead to success if utilized properly
OMRO President Jun Paredes affirmed how important it is for them to be able to share what they've learned in the course of improving their own farms. "Knowledge cannot be stolen. No rich man could ever steal what is in your mind and in your heart."

This noble transfer of learnings and materials is their basis for creating the KITS Journey, which they partnered with the Lakbay Alay (sort of like a sacrificial travel) project. These initiatives entail OMRO members to leave their farms for a few days to visit far-flung areas so they can unselfishly share Knowledge, Inputs, Technology, and Services to farmers who need them.

organic produce are healthy, safe, and chemical-free food
"When people are given much, they tend not to value them. So we only give small inputs along with the knowledge and technology on how to use them," described Jun who said this way, farmers become challenged to multiply whatever they have been entrusted with. "It is in the small things where success starts." At Jun's own farm, he was able to multiply an initial 2kg of palay seeds so efficiently that he now cultivates rice in 500 hectares of land.

During the orientation at Mike's farm, his coconut and rice farmer neighbors attentively listened to the success stories that OMRO members shared. Admitting to limited knowledge about how to improve their yields and the problems they face every planting season, the farmer guests received sound advice that gave them the necessary encouragement to venture outside their comfort zones and look into shifting to growing other crops as well as go into organic farming.

OMRO giving inputs from their own farms, for free, to farmers who need them
The sad reality is, many Filipino farmers grow old without reaping the benefits of their hard work and labor. According to Jun, it's not enough to have sipag at tiyaga (diligence and persistence), one also has to add diskarte (strategy) to the equation. "At kapal muks (be thick-skinned)," he added, explaining that they have to learn to be vocal and to speak up about what they need to those who may be able to help.

Before we left Mike Pedroso Farms, OMRO handed out seeds and other planting materials to Mike's neighbors in the hopes that soon, they, too, would have their own success stories to tell.

The next day, we joined the OMRO members at La Granja de Reyna in Tacloban City as they held the Value for Money: Investment for Health activity to promote organic farmers as producers of healthy, safe, and chemical-free food. It was attended by Region 8 government officials, including Leyte governor Hon. Dominico Petilla, Dr. Vilma Patindol, Training Center Superintendent of ATI-RTC8, and organic enthusiasts such as restaurant owners and other customers.

OMRO says, "Pay organic farmers now
or pay the doctor later."
Hon. Petilla assured the farmers that one of their initiatives is inclusive economic growth for everyone to reduce poverty incidence, especially after Typhoon Yolanda ravaged the region three years ago. He acknowledged how malnutrition goes down "the moment we teach farming to poor communities."

The governor reported that two years after the super typhoon devastated the province, Leyte was given the Gawad Ani award for being one of the top five rice producers in Region 8. "We rose from the ashes and are now the fifth fastest in economic growth out of the Philippines' 17 regions. We are now better off than before Yolanda! And organic farmers play a very important role in the health of Leyte├▒os."

food products made from organically-grown ingredients
Dr. Elvira Torres from the Field Operations Office agreed that, "Organic is LIFE. It provides Livelihood Enhancement, Income Generation, Food Safety and Security, and Environmental regeneration towards climate resilience."

"We are composed of passionate farmers who don't depend on government assistance," described Jun. "We recognize the problem with climate change and we know that farmers need to help because the government can't do it alone. That is why OMRO requires 10% of each members' farm to be devoted to reforestation." 

OA Bloggers with OMRO members
To date, these dedicated farmers have already journeyed six times all over Eastern Visayas for the KITS Journey / Lakbay Alay. Jun pointed out, "Even though our organization's official papers are yet to be finalized, we've already been able to share needed services. Each learning site we visit adopts farmers that need help."

Personally, I am grateful and inspired to have met the members of OMRO. Their genuine passion and dedication to contribute what they could, without expecting anything in return, gave me hope that the Philippines will continue on its way to becoming a great nation someday because there are unselfish people like them who care enough about their fellowmen and our environment.    

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