Report on GSS Activities, Some Highlights

Report on GSS Activities, Some Highlights

Quarter 1 of 2022 has barely ended, but Global Seed Savers’ work is already in full swing. It’s as if we were all making up for the 2020 and 2021.

Last March 15, 2022, we conducted the Food Sovereignty Launching in Tublay, Benguet. As part of the campaign, we have also conducted two more workshops: Climate Smart Agriculture in Cebu and a training on Underutilized Legumes in the Cordillera. Aside from these two activities, we also celebrated Earth Day last April 22, 2022 with several farmers from Tublay by giving a short lecture on seed saving.[This article is focused on the first two activities mentioned above. For an update regarding our Earth Day 2022 Celebration read, Reflecting on our Earth Day Celebrations].

Highlights from the Climate Smart Agriculture Workshop

The Climate Smart Agriculture Workshop was conducted last March 23 to 25, 2022 at the Arapal Nature Farms in Cebu. It was facilitated by Farmer Jon Sarmiento from Mindoro, and attended by our partners at CAFEi and the Cebu Seed Savers.

Of the many important topics that was discussed by Farmer Jon, one that had a great impact was the importance of prioritizing food security for the families. He says that food should be locally produced and processed.

That food is essential to societies is no longer debatable. But the pandemic has taught us that disruptions in food supply can happen. Can you imagine how a community that is solely reliant on food imports and has no capacity to produce its own food fared during the pandemic?

But Farmer Jon’s discussion of food security did not just refer to the abundance of food. He also discussed the importance of nutrition security, which enabled him to discuss the many intricacies of food production. He discussed the importance of adhering to Intensified Diversified Organic Farming Systems (IDOFS) and Permaculture and stresses need to adhere to the values and principles that respect the interdependence of nature and human societies.

Beyond the skills of conducting Farm Vulnerability Assessments, and planning for disaster-proof farms, Farmer Jon has also sought to introduce to attendees a new philosophy of farming which offers a good balance between protecting the traditional practices, and promoting innovation.

Highlights from the Seminar on Underutilized Food Legume Species and Development of Specialty Legume-Based Food

This workshop was held last April 8, 2022 in partnership with the Benguet State Education Higher Education Regional Research Center (BSU-HERRC).

Here are some of the highlights of that lecture:

  • Dr. Belinda Tad-awan opened the seminar with a discussion of her research on some of the most underutilized food legumes that can be found in Benguet and the Mountain Province. Some of the species mentioned included cowpea, lima bean, pigeon pea, and rice bean.
  • Hector Gayomba went next to discuss his experiment on various organic seed treatments.
  • Mr. Gayomba’s study found that the most effective seed protectants we can use during seed storage are pulverized madre de cacao leaves and pine wood ash. Meanwhile, the most effective organic materials are coconut juice and extracts from horsetail plant, sunflower, malunggay, papaya, and garlic.
  • The seminar closed with a lecture on processing legumes in order to produce various food products.

    These two events have once again, allowed us to rediscover the reality that there are many ways to achieve food sovereignty in the Philippines. These have also reminded us of our unique role in helping farmers access important information that can help them improve their practice.

    Reflecting on our Earth Day Celebrations

    Reflecting on our Earth Day Celebrations

    Why are we celebrating Earth day? I have always thought of it as a corporate gimmick which was geared towards getting more people to spend. But my research into the origins of Earth Day has led me to several insights.

    The first celebration of Earth Day was in the 1970s, which was attended by 40,000 to 60,000 people. From the beginning, Earth day was designed to raise awareness about persistent  environmental issues which plagues the planet. Environmental activism was still in its beginning stages and the Earth day helped propel climate consciousness forward. [1]

    Efren giving introduction on the importance of seed saving.

    The Earth Day was so powerful that just a year after, the US passed important policies such as The Clean Air Act, The Water Quality Improvement Act, The Endangered Species Act, The Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.[2]

    Since then, Earth Day has become a day for reflection on how our actions serve to protect or harm our planet. It also serves as a reminder for the significance of protecting the health of the planet, and a day for asking ourselves what we can do to help ensure continuity of life on earth.

    Many people credit Earth day as a vital turning point: from a society whose main goal was to extract resources from the Earth, we have now reached a point of awakening to our common destiny as citizens of this planet.

    But even as environmental consciousness is spreading around the world, to this day, the degradation of our natural resources continue. We are now in the midst of a climate crisis. In fact, in its February 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that some impacts of global warming is no longer reversible. [3]

    According to the study, “Over 40% of the world’s population are highly vulnerable to climate and that…places where people live and work may cease to exist, that ecosystems and species that we’ve all grown up with and that are central to our cultures and inform our languages may disappear”.

    Despite these bleak predictions, however, Dr. Helen Adams, the report’s lead author from King’s College, London says, “things are bad, but actually, the future depends on us, not the climate”.

    Karen discusses the impact of GMOs on our health.

    If we are to turn things around for our planet, and for our societies, we must be ready to take drastic action.

    But what exactly does it mean?

    The theme for this year’s Earth day is  “Invest in our Planet”.[4] It proposes two solutions:

    • net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century to keep the global temperature below 1.5°C, and
    • the use of regenerative agriculture

    How can these be translated to the Philippine context? As an agricultural country, the second solution may be most applicable for us, and in this, we are happy to say that conversations are already underway. [5], … Continue reading

    But the way forward is still wrought with many challenges. The struggle for the transformation of the Philippines’ agricultural landscape is real.

    For one, thousands of farmers in the country still refuse to transition to organic farming despite knowing the environmental and health impact of chemical agriculture. Our very own government is also pushing for GMO products, despite massive resistance among farmers, the most recent of which is the Golden Rice.[6], … Continue reading

    A 2014 study published by the American Marketing Association shows that belief systems, not profit, is the main reason why chemical farmers continue with their practice. The study found that “[M]aking that change [from chemical to organic] feels like switching belief systems”.[7]

    Manang Elizabeth discussing the wet and dry methods of seed saving. 

    This discovery now points to the reality that the problem is now ideological. This makes the work of Global Seed Savers (GSS) and other environmental organizations both easy and difficult.

    On the one hand, the “battle” is difficult because we will be going against deeply entrenched belief systems and decades of destructive habits.

    On the other hand, it is also easy because we now know what we are up against. Now we need to come up with new ways of inspiring farms to adopt changes in their practice which are both sustainable and profitable.

    And because the challenge is now ideological, it will require from us a lot of conversations with partner farmers in order to find the balance between their dreams for the future, and the need to restore our ailing planet.

    We realize now the importance of going about our work in a holistic way. In the same way that we must ensure that regionally-adapted seeds are accessible to farmers, we must also pay attention to the health of the soil, water, and air. [This is the reason why we are now engaged with food sovereignty and the conversation about climate smart agriculture, read Report on GSS Activities, Some Highlights].

    This Earth Day has led us back to a space of gratitude, for this planet, and for our friends and allies who continue to protect our living planet. Our work is just beginning, but we are ready.

    Reflecting On Our Visit To Cebu, Discovering Regenerative Agriculture

    Reflecting On Our Visit To Cebu, Discovering Regenerative Agriculture

    In late March of 2022, Karen and I went to visit our partner farmers to see how everything is going on the ground. I went there filled with excitement because this is the first time I will be meeting our field partners and farmers personally. 

    You see, this trip has been postponed several times due to the recurring lockdowns and surges and COVID cases. This fact, plus the many stories of sorrows and triumphs amid the pandemic and the typhoons have further enhanced my eagerness to meet and engage in conversations with our partners. 

    And since we were visiting Cebu just months after Typhoon Odette devastated the province, I came here expecting to hear stories of how this typhoon impacted the farms and the lives of our farmers. I thought it would be a heavy and sympathetic kind of conversation. [Odette made landfall in December 2021. You can read about our response here. You can also read Harry’s reflection on the relief efforts launched during Typhoon Odette.]

    Of course in some conversations, farmers were lamenting the impact of the calamity, but I also heard stories of hope and saw first hand how some of them rose from the difficulties. What I expected to be difficult conversations turned inspirational. 

    Take for example Gina, who was forced to make do with a small backyard garden after the government retracted ownership of the land she used to farm. Despite the small size of her garden, she is now growing several crops. As of our visit, some of these crops were already flowering and many were ready to grow seeds. 

    And then there was Bevs, whose farm was thriving at the time of our visit. In fact, I thought that the typhoon spared her garden, but she told us that she was able to rehabilitate her farm pretty quickly. She says this was because used to run and manage a large farm in Bohol. 

    Despite these inspiring stories, however, the evidence of Odette’s force was pretty clear to see. A group of farmers in Pestales, for example, had a difficult experience to tell. The typhoon had disrupted their production because they were unable to use a large portion of the beverage and produce processing area. The roof had been totally wrecked. During  our visit, we were unable to meet their leader, Rodelyn, since she and her team were busy seeking grants to help out in their rebuilding efforts. But just like most of our conversations, the farmers of Pestales were committed to rise back up on their feet. 

    On March 23, during the latter part of our trip, we went to the north of Cebu where members of our Cebu Seed Savers, some GSSP staff, and the CAFEi team gathered for a training on regenerative agricultural practices at the Arapal Livelihood Center in Bogo City.

    The training was given by Jon Sarmiento, a farmer with twenty years of experience using what he called the Integrated Diversified Organic Farming System (IDOFS). 

    This system looks at climate change as an urgent situation. Farmer Jon highlighted that humanity has been overly exploiting and abusing the earth for a long period of time and because of this, the climate has drastically changed. This changing climate poses severe challenges to farmers. 

    According to Farmer Jon, a farm design using IDOFS should therefore take into account the impacts of farming activities to the environment thus not only thinking of what is happening now but more importantly what activities in the present can impact the future. Underscored in Jon’s talk was the governing principle in his farming practice. 


    “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

    The underlying reason why one would choose to practice IDOFS is their love and commitment to their own family. He recounted his younger years when his farmer parents — both of whom were conventional farmers — would save up the best produce for selling to the market. The rejected produce are the ones left for their family’s table. 

    Here, Jon emphasized that in IDOFS, a farmer will choose to apply the best, and most sustainable way of crop production, those that are not laced with chemicals for example, because the purpose for growing food is to feed the family. A farmer that loves his family will choose to grow the best produce by cultivating his farm in the most sustainable way. 

    Listening to this, I recalled home. In Banaue where my parents grew up, there stood the majestic Banaue rice terraces, considered one of the wonders of the World. Unlike the other wonders of the world that were built by slavery, the Banaue rice terraces owes its magnificence to the love of our ancestors to their community. 

    Our modern world would call the techniques used in the creation of the Banaue Rice Terraces as contour farming – a sustainable farming technique that prevents soil erosion and maintains soil moisture.

    But for those of us who hail from Ifugao, this is the most concrete expression of our ancestors’ love and concern for the future generations. Through this example, I was able to understand what Farmer Jon meant by the “guiding principles” of IDOFS.