“Seeds are essential to agriculture because whoever controls the seed supply will affect the state of food and agriculture.”
Thus say the organizers of the October 26 conference “Food. Farming. Freedom” or FFF. They add that it is of the utmost importance that small-scale farmers gain access to farming components.
These, however, were just two of many sweeping issues tackled at the conference held at the Loyola School of Theology at Ateneo de Manila, an event that gathered farmers, doctors, scientists, chefs, foodies, and food activists, all of whom loved eating as much as the values it brings to all sectors of society.
“Food. Farming. Freedom” takes a closer look at our current food system, its strengths and challenges, to help strengthen consumer awareness and action and protect the most basic of our rights, our right to eat, and to eat sustainably. The conference raised the critical issues surrounding our food system, and sought to help strengthen the food and farming connection. Workshops aimed to help strengthen consumer awareness and action and protect our food freedom. The event was a direct collaboration between chefs and farmers showcasing the diversity of our local organic produce in the dishes—sustainably sourced, local, organic, biodiverse, non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) plant-based food–served at the conference.
The conference was organized by the following: MASIPAG (Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura), a 30-year-old farmer-led network of peoples’ organizations; non-government organizations; scientists working towards the sustainable use and management of biodiversity through farmers’ control of genetic and biological resources, agricultural production and associated knowledge; Good Food Community (advocates for growing a sustainable society that nourishes everyone through community-shared agriculture); Me & My Veg Mouth (a vegan kitchen and consulting firm promoting the benefits of a plant-based diet with the purpose of enabling communities to heal themselves through healthy and sustainable plant-based food one plate at a time); and BeLeaf Kitchen & Bread of Freedom (a community that focuses on food in relation to all the living systems coming from an ecological paradigm and mindset, and which serves as a platform where food freedom networks can connect and collaborate to inspire action and creative change).
“Food. Farming. Freedom” was mounted to reinforce the powerful role of well-informed consumers to shape a food system that is kinder to our farmers, healthy and safe for all consumers, more inclusive of its benefits, and sustainable for our planet.
TessDrive covered the event, as well as visited a ricefield in Santa Rosa, Nueva Ecija–in one of the so-called “back-up farms” of MASIPAG (which oversees 188 trial farms nationwide).
The farm in Santa Rosa could be considered “ground zero” of the Pinoy’s “food freedom” movement. Here, farmers store 2,114 varieties of non-GMO organic rice in the MASIPAG national seed bank. Each rice variety is carefully stored, and represents the power, however fragile it may be, of local farmers and consumers.
The seed bank, directly sourced from the country’s local farmers, is the symbolic and literal beginning of the Filipino’s journey into food and food sufficiency.
“Our partners from MASIPAG empower organic farmers and urge consumers to take action against the continuous privatization of agricultural components through supporting small-scale organic farmers,” the FFF statement said.
According to MASIPAG Partner Scientist Dr. Chito Medina, PhD, organic farming can feed the world, and that organic farming is safer and more sustainable. He spoke about “Corporate Control of Agriculture and Food”.
Who controls our food system?
Over the past 60 years, agriculture has tremendously changed from sustainable agriculture towards industrial chemical farming. As it turns out, this idea of “modernization” has failed to feed the world as claimed; instead, the corporate capture of our country’s agriculture and food has impoverished our farmers even more, and has destabilized our local economy, leading to more malnutrition and hunger in our country.
Medina’s presentation discussed how GMOs are used as tools for corporate control of our food systems and the associated displacement of biodiversity and farmers, as well as overuse of pesticides in chemical farming which has led to the degradation of our soils—a big contribution to our climate crisis—and the profound negative effects of these chemicals on our health and the environment.
Medina shared success stories of how MASIPAG’s programs are helping resource-poor farmers, local communities and peoples organizations, and how the group is supporting their participation in adapting and developing their own technologies and in maintaining access and control of production resources such as seeds, technology, and land.
A short historical overview of agricultural policies that have shaped our country’s broken food system was discussed by Maria Fatima Villena, Project Manager, Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety-Legal Development Programme, Center for Integrative and Development Studies, University of the Philippines and Mary Ann Manahan, Coordinator of the Global Greengrants Fund IFI Advisory Board. Villena and Manahan traced the history to the “Green Revolution” and liberalization programs, including the recent Rice Tariffication Law that ushered in an era of hybrid, chemical-based industrial, export-oriented, and free trade-based agriculture, further asserting that the problems that beset us today are but structural and deeply entrenched government policies.
There is hope if consumers lend their powerful voices to turn the tide through critical engagements and policy advocacy at various levels of governance.
How do we reclaim our local, organic and biodiverse food system?
The FFF tackled the topic of how global capitalism affects everyone. “The more shocking events of vegetable dumping, rice tariffication and the quieter ones like GMOs in our food supply and peasant killings we see as a system self-destruction. The powerful prey on the weak, systems of violence echoed from the family to the village to the global scene. As these structures crumble, we need to build living economies in their wake: Ways of relating and trading that are respectful of the land, the farmers and the consumers. Community-shared agriculture is one such experiment. Citizen-led, we pool our commitments to support our farmers rain or shine, La Nina or El Nino. We offer a market stability in return for a seasonal share of the harvest. It will entail changing your world to change our world and your plate is a powerful way to begin,” declared the FFF in its official statement.
A living example has been Charlene Tan, co-founder of Good Food Community, a social enterprise that connects small-holder farmers with urban consumers through community shared agriculture.
The physiology of rice is teaching us about what we as Filipinos should be consuming to make us healthy and to renew our connection with the land. As a traditional rice farmer, Manuel Onalan told stories about his childhood memories in Kalinga, at a time when farming traditions were still very much alive. He also spoke about the colonization of our food system, represented by what he described as “pandesal culture”, and shared why choosing local organic unpolished rice is vital in bringing back the balance we have lost in terms of our health, and in protecting our rice heritage. Onalan is the bearded farmtrepreneur who runs a booth at Legazpi Organic Market in Makati, where his regular clients flock every Sunday to procure fresh produce he consolidated from different farms in northern Luzon, particularly in the Cordillera uplands. He is also part of the faculty of The Ecology of Food course, where he shares his wisdom about rice nutrition.
How do we set seeds free and in the process free ourselves? Why is the story of seeds urgent for climate action? Attendees learned more about the seed school and how it has the potential to impact food security and biodiversity through earth healers and earth leaders Amena Bal, Karla Delgado of Kai Farms, and farmer leader Ronaldo Alarca.
Who feeds the world?
Asha Peri, FFF organizer, plant-based chef and instructor of Be-Leaf & Bread of Freedom, and founder of Ecology of Plant-Based Nutrition course, discussed “Breaking the Chain, Building Food Webs”.
Asha examined what has been served on two kinds of plates—one that reflects food grown by the “peasant food web” and the other showing what’s grown by the “industrial food chain”—and presented a detailed understanding of the processes and mechanisms that are employed in the food production of both systems to answer these questions, “Who really feeds the world?” and “What are the conditions of those growing our food?”
Asha believes that to create a sustainable food system—one that follows the law of return and the law of diversity—there is a growing need to break the chain and to build food webs that strengthen the relationships within and along ecosystems. In the face of a climate emergency that is compromising life on this planet as we know it, there is a pressing need for consumers to reclaim their role as part of the production system and to actively participate in the transformation of our food system from a highly extractive model to a circulative one that will ensure food security for all and would protect the health of future generations.
Dr. Jennifer M. Dela Rosa-Flores, MD, physician, biologist and integrative medicine specialist, discussed “We are what our microbes eat”. Her presentation showed how the two different modes of food production —industrial agriculture and organic farming—have had an impact on human health. She showed the important connections between soil health and the gut microbiome, and why building gut diversity may be the key in improving our whole health and well being. Dr. Jen shared stories of healing from her patients, and how prescribing food as medicine following an organic, non-GMO and mostly plant-based diet accelerated and promoted healing in many ways. She also offered suggestions on how ordinary people could optimize their gut health.
Conference moderators were Mabi David, FFF organizer, co-founder of Me & My Veg Mouth and book author of “Paano Kumain ng Kulay?”, for “Who Feeds the World?”; Virginia Benosa-Llorin, Food and Ecological Agriculture Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia Philippine Office for “Who Controls Our Food System?”; Digna Ruth Daliva, Value Chain and Capacity Building Coordinator for Lifebank Center for Bayanihan Economics (Bulacan) and Council Chairman of the Farmers Scientists Network for the Advancement of Sustainable Agriculture (Iloilo).
The local, organic, and biodiverse lunch spread at the conference was described by organizers as a direct collaboration between chefs and farmers. Attendees were served banana heart adobo with sprouted black beans and Kulitis by Chef Yen Belarmino. Turmeric rice adlai with Asian aromatics and veggies by Chef Barby O’Hara, Langka tamale wrapped in galangal leaves by Chef Rap Cristobal, Munggo-kamote and alugbati balls by Chef Mylene Dolonius with santol and pineapple chutney by Kashmir Restaurant, and fresh local greens by Kai Farms with Lemongrass vinaigrette by Chef Barry O’Hara.
FFF calls its biodiverse food web as a collaboration between chefs and farmers, which included Cielo Castro Magisa of Delicielo; Rap Cristobal of Purple Yam Malate; Yen Belarmino of AV108 Yoga School; Mareus Dela Rosa, General Manager of The Artisan Farms, son of a MASIPAG farmer; Barby O’Hara of Rawsome Kitchen; Mylene Vinluan Dolonius of Studio Plantmaed. Kashmir, Be-Leaf and with produce from Mang Manny’s, Good Food Community, Kalinaw Farms and Kai Farms.
Physician and environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva, Founder of Navdanya Biodiversity Farm, a seed sovereignty advocate and eco feminist, delivered an inspiring video message to the FFF attendees:
“The web of life of different species interacting with each other is the food web. Food is the ultimate currency, it is the currency of life. And our duty is to maintain this web.
“What is called the food system today is really a war system, spreading poisons that came out of the war, destroying biodiversity, creating large-scale monocultures and along with the uprooting of biodiversity, uprooting of our small farmers who care for the land, degrading and destroying the quality of our food to the extent that today we are eating nutritionally empty food loaded with poisons, and getting cancer, and kidney failure, and diabetes and all the chronic diseases.
“75% of the destruction of the earth comes from the industrial, fossil-fuel driven, poison-based system, which is not an agriculture system because agriculture means care for the land. It’s a war system.
“50% of the greenhouse gases totally destabilizing our climate systems come from industrial globalized food and agriculture. 75% of chronic diseases come from the system, and this system is extracting value, from the soil, from the seed, from the pollinators, from our food.
“And this value is accumulating in the hands of a poison cartel of three: green trading giants, four; transformers of good food into junk, four; and destroyers of livelihoods and local markets, the Walmarts and the Amazons.
“This food chain is a chain of exploitation, it’s a chain of extermination, it is a chain that will definitely lead to extinction of human species like the other species that have already been pushed to extinction.
“We have another way of building a food web with love and care, with respect for the Earth, respect for people. Giving food the respect it deserves, the work it deserves, the care it deserves, the knowledge it deserves. That’s our work.
“We’ve got to say, no more food chains, let us celebrate the food web, as transformers, as growers, as farmers, as eaters.
“Each of us has a role for this amazing new revolution. That each of us can play a big role in. This revolution will come from our hands, our heads, and our hearts.”
“Food. Farming. Freedom” is the group’s call-to-action to support the global movement for poison-free food and farming by 2030 initiated by Navdanya International through their seed freedom platform. Navdanya International supports FFF’s efforts in creating a poison-free food and farming in the Philippines.