IN DEMAND -- Assorted vegetables grown without the use of any chemicals were displayed for sale to the public during the gathering of members of organic farmers’ groups and the Department of Agriculture in the Cordillera last week. Adelina Sina-oy, a member of the Barangay Loacan Organic Farmers’ Association, presents some of organic vegetables grown by farmers. -- HFP

Putting premium to organic agriculture will further cement Benguet’s moniker as the country’s “Salad Bowl Capital” and sooner, the “organic vegetable capital.”

Department of Agriculture Cordillera Executive Director Lorenzo Caranguian told reporters that vegetable-producing provinces such as Benguet and some parts of Mountain Province and Ifugao have competitive advantage in promoting organic agriculture, especially temperate vegetables.

With demand for organic vegetables growing and members of organic agriculture groups expanding in the Cordillera, Caranguian said there is no doubt the region will soon be capable of feeding Filipinos with healthy foods.

One testament that the ground works for organic agriculture has been laid down in the Cordillera is the first Gawad Saka Organic Farmer of the Year 2010 award received by Pat Acosta, one of the practitioners in the region.

Acosta made a name for himself by producing healthy vegetables without using chemicals in a 3,000 square meter private farm in Puguis, La Trinidad, Benguet.

Organic agriculture is becoming popular in many parts of the region with one group, the La Trinidad Organic Practitioners, expanding its membership from Benguet to other parts of the Cordillera. It now has 114 members, according to its president Cesar Galvey.

Another group, the Barangay Loacan Organic Farmers’ Association led by its president Crispin Abellera, also maintains dedicated members who produce purely organic vegetables and crops sold in local market outlets.

The multi-million and recently opened Benguet Agri-Pinoy Trading Center in La Trinidad, Benguet expressed willingness to help groups promoting good agricultural practices, such as organic agriculture, to find buyers.

BAPTC Officer-in-Charge Chief Operations Officer Danilo Daguio said his office already received some inquiries regarding supplies of organic vegetables and crops. 

There is also a growing interest for organic agriculture among farmers who practice conventional farming.

Arlene L. Flores, director of the Agricultural Training Institute-Cordillera, said 25 farmers’ organizations applied to be GAP-certified but only 10 have been initially given certification.

Members of these farmers’ groups have to undergo three to five tedious trainings before being given GAP-certification.

Being GAP-certified adds value to agriculture products. At present, most of the highland farm products certified as temperate vegetables are lettuce, cabbage, potato, and carrots.

Earlier, an organic farmer shared that most of their clients cited health reasons in buying organic products.

Another farmer, Jeff Laruan, a regional Gawad Saka organic farmer awardee, who hosted the press forum at his “Lily of the Valley Farms” in Puguis, La Trinidad also said there is a growing demand for organic vegetables among persons with health problems and a growing interest for organic farming in the localities.

Laruan maintains organic farms in a 1.8-hectare property at Sitio Ampasit in Puguis. He also offers a homestay for individuals or groups, who want to experience life in the farm.

Laruan and other organic farmers have been advocating for non-use of chemicals for health benefits and to maintain a balanced ecology.