Balik Binhi Program: Why is it a proactive climate response?

By Mavic Conde


From a small community that organized relief drives for disaster-affected farmers, Tarabangan sa Bicol, Incorporated (TABI) has become a research farm to mitigate the vulnerabilities of farmers to climate change.


How did that happen? Let’s get to know some of its members this Peasant Month.


Tom Borjal, TABI’s coordinator for the climate resilience program, said typhoons have become more destructive that relief aids weren’t enough as a response.


“We’ve seen it all, from 2006, Reming... and those really brought devastating impacts,” Borjal said.


With climate change, powerful typhoons are expected to become more frequent. In the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, it is undoubtedly caused by human activities involving global greenhouse gas emissions. These include not only burning of fossil fuels but also from chemicals used in food production.


Hence, TABI Farm’s shift to a more proactive measure that is diversification of rice varieties through a farmer-led organic research farm.


What happens in the trial farm?


“At the trial farm, we test traditional rice varieties where we pick the most resilient and recommend them to participating farmers,” said Ronald Labrador.


Labrador oversees the testing farm and has a degree in environmental science. According to him, a verification process is in place to help farmers decide, which is best suited for their farming areas.


TABI Farm has 90 traditional rice varieties from MASIPAG (a network of thousands of farmers in the Philippines) as one of its trial farms. This includes the flood-resilient rice variety that Pepito B. Babasa from Camarines Sur had bred naturally because his farm gets flooded when Bato Lake overflows.


Seed diversification is central to MASIPAG’s approach; and for this to happen, there should be cooperation and co-creation of knowledge during the process.


Why start with seeds?


Labrador urged the government, including the candidates for the coming 2022 elections, to prioritize seed diversification for smallholder farmers.


“They should allow farmers to propagate their own seeds, so they’ll have control of their food production.” According to Labrador, farmers can do this when they don’t depend on external farm inputs such as seeds and fertilizers.


At the farm, seeds are accessible for farmers (adaptors) as long as they provide a portion of their harvests for seed storage and distribution. The fertilizers and pesticides they use are also natural, using microorganisms found in the farm’s soil, snail shell, and other organic materials around the farm.


Labrador, who is also a farmer himself, said that its immediate benefit is how farmers save on planting costs. This helps them avoid getting buried in debt just to buy chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and spend it on other family expenses. Their produce is not exposed to chemicals too.


Also farmer-to-farmer aid becomes possible, like during this pandemic when the farm was able to contribute in Mobile Hot Meals, a feeding program of one of its partner people’s organization Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Bicol.


However transition may not happen overnight. Adaptors may try to plant just a portion of their rice field(s) when they’re just starting out. Breeding will also take years.


That’s why diversification of food sources, like livestock, planting of fruit-bearing trees and vegetables is also part of the approach. A school is also integrated for technical courses related to agriculture for its partner People’s Organizations.


Through MASIPAG’s method of farmer-led and farmer-to-farmer diffusion of knowledge and training for seed diversification, TABI Farm is able to address the systemic issues that relief operations will not be able to, like poverty and greenhouse gas emissions.