Changing people’s lifestyles are pushing more famers in Pangasinan province to shift to organic agriculture, a nongovernment organization (NGO) official here says. Victoria Padilla, executive director of the Agro-Technical Assistance and Livelihood Opportunities in the North (Agtalon) Inc., says more consumers are becoming aware of the harmful effects of chemicals that are used to grow plants and animals.

Agtalon Inc., an NGO based in Manaoag town, has been promoting sustainable agriculture and development in the province since 1987. It operates a three-hectare organic farm that produces chickens, hogs, vegetables, rice and corn.

“It’s just that there’s no system yet that has been set up [for organic products] in the country,” Padilla says.

For instance, she adds, product labels and packages are unclear which of these are organic.

“But we now have a law, the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010, which says that by 2016, you cannot claim that your product is organic if it is not certified,” she says.

In the country, certification bodies include the Organic Certification Center of the Philippines and the Negros Island Certification Services, an independent third party accredited by the Department of Agriculture.

Claron Cabansag, organic agriculture coordinator at the office of the provincial agriculturist here, says hundreds of Pangasinan farmers have shifted to organic farming not only for its health and environmental benefits but also because of the good market.

Cabansag adds he was surprised that more than 300 organic farmers showed up at the 1st Pangasinan Organic Agriculture Advocates and Practitioners Convention here on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We did not expect that many will attend. There were only a handful of them a few years back and they were mostly enthusiasts,” he says.

“With the convention, we can now organize them and create a database of their profiles and products,” he points out.

He says a number of organic farmers in the province have been producing rice, vegetables and other products commercially. But these were never enough, he adds, adding that there’s a big market, especially in Metro Manila.

Padilla says her farm alone had been asked to supply a Metro Manila outlet with 160 cavans of organic rice every week.

“That’s 80 cavans twice a week. But we could not cope with the demand. And that’s just rice. This is why we wanted more farmers to go organic to increase the supply,” she says.

Aside from promoting healthy lifestyle, Padilla explains organic agriculture is also good business.

“For every P1 invested by a farmer, P300 returns to him or her. We are selling unpolished organic rice at P1,950 per cavan (50 kilograms). That’s about P39 a kg. But if they sell it in the supermarkets, it’s already more than P60 a kg, the price almost doubled,” Padilla says.

She says her group had set up trading posts for organic products in Dagupan and Urdaneta cities for Pangasinan consumers.