Agrilink 2016 to Highlight Potentials of Negros Island Region’s Organic Agriculture

Several agribusiness stakeholders are set to highlight the budding organic agriculture sector in Negros Island Region (NIR) to the country’s premier trade exhibition on agriculture, food and aquaculture: AgrilinkFoodlink and Aqualink 2016, slated from October 6 to 8 at the World Trade Center, Pasay City.

Now in its 23rd edition, this year’s theme, “Negros, A Model of Agribusiness Resiliency,” will highlight the sturdiness and strength of the agricultural industries of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental through an improved and integrated focus on the chain of agribusiness activities—from production inputs, the use of new and appropriate technologies, value adding, market diversification, strategic product development, retailing, and marketing.

The integration of both provinces, through Executive Order 183, provides the means from which their organic agriculture sector can further thrive. In the past, Negros Occidental farmers and fisherfolk had trek to Iloilo to reach out to the Department of Agriculture (DA), where its regional field office for Western Visayas (of which it was previously part of) is located; while those from Negros Oriental had to go to Cebu, explained Ramon Uy Jr., president of NIR-based ONOPRA (Organikna Negros! Organic Producers and Retailers Association), one of the country’s biggest non-government organizations involved in organic agriculture.

There is a lot of potential that can be tapped from their synergy. Agricultural technologies and infrastructure can be quickly and comprehensively implemented to better serve the farmers and fishermen. Uy noted that the influx of agri-tourists in both provinces is steadily gaining traction, which further accentuates their inherently given natural resources. Sugar, the region’s staple agricultural produce, is diversifying into a lucrative value-added product that caters to food, manufacturing, energy, hygiene and cosmetic, pharmaceutical and animal nutrition sectors.

Indeed, NIR is one of many regions whose agricultural industry remain resilient—from crops such as sugarcane, coconut, banana, sweet potato and cassava. It also boasts of a sturdy aquaculture sector, with notable gains in milkfish, tilapia, prawns and white shrimp, catfish, grouper, oyster, mussel, seaweed, crabs and tuna.

If there’s one that can most benefit from having an integrated approach to infrastructure support, trade promotion and investment, it is the region’s organic agriculture industry. “Organic agriculture is the call of the time,” said Uy, “The sustainable production chain involved in organic agriculture helps address and mitigate the challenges of the country’s agricultural industry—ASEAN integration, climate change, and ensuring that it is profitable, especially to smallholders.”

The region has already reaped what it has sown. According to the DA’s National Organic Agriculture Program, over 16,000 hectares of the region’s land are currently utilized to organic farming, producing export and value-added products ranging from the famous coffee grown in rainforests of Mt. Kanlaon, muscovado sugar and heirloom rice varieties to high-value fruits and vegetables.

“In addition to commercial agribusinesses, the observed increase in the number of farmers shifting to organic farming also reflects a thriving local organic industry. In Negros Occidental alone, we have more than 100 groups with over 10,000 farmers growing a sundry of crops such as lettuce, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, lettuce, cauliflower, various herbs and spices, mango, papaya and squash fruit,” Uy added.

Uy added that the demand for organic products is so resonant even among local communities in Negros. In terms of global trade, it is a multi-billion dollar industry. Recognizing this, the DA has earmarked PhP207 million, with Php7M already planned for production support services such as market development, training and education, and distribution of organic fertilizer as well as rice and vegetable seeds for lowland and upland areas in both regions. To further support organic farmers, producers and stakeholders across the country, DA has increased the budget to PhP800 million for 2017.

At Agrilink 2016, ONOPRA, in coordination with NIR’s local government units, will also be conducting free seminars and technical workshop on organic farming. It will also be organizing cooking demonstrations on several organic produce such as muscovado sugar. Supported by the DA, its regional units and allied agencies, as well as co-organized over 30 agribusiness and food organizations, Agrilink 2016 will also feature local and international agricultural products, live animal and plant displays and other interactive activities that will underscore the most up-to-date and ground-breaking inputs, technologies and alliances that will enhance the profitability, sustainability and productivity of the interdependent industries of agriculture, aquaculture and food.