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A matter of choice to eat organically

Sharon Tan is the Chief Executive Officer for Grains Handler Philippines Inc. and Executive Assistant to the Chairman and President, Foremost Farms Inc.

How did you get into organic foods?

I look for organic food because, for example, my children like chicken, so I give them free-range chicken. I buy organic gulay, berries, nuts, organic chicken, pork and eggs, even for breakfast.

Sometimes I succumb to my children’s preferences and buy them hot dogs and burgers, but only very rarely.

For 18 years now, the children have had no canned goods and hot dogs are no longer the staple – except sometimes, but not daily.

Most people eat almost anything edible, and to eat natural food is already a big way.

Why is organic produce more expensive when compared to conventional produce?

It is relatively expensive because when you say organic, it means the farmer spends, whether on time, labor, investment and so on. Part of the input is that the farmer tills the soil.

Organic farming means special management systems that are different from conventional farming. We have standards to follow; for example, we address animal welfare, as in raising free range hogs in conditions as close as possible to nature.

Organic should not be more expensive; however, the farm to market route in bringing very fresh produce makes it so.

That route also includes toll fees. And because farms are really far from the city; farms are in surroundings where perhaps just one vehicle passes by every 30 minutes; you don’t find those farms near cities.

The logistics are simply more expensive; being far away is part of the equation to be organic.

These things are not seen; what people see are just fresh produce and choice cuts.

Is it affordable to the average consumer?

Juan de la Cruz buys cellphones, eats fast food burgers. Ano ba naman ito, what’s organic food when it’s your health we’re talking about.

We can’t say mahal na mahal when we load and load for our cellphones. Others even spend P320 for a 3-D movie.

Organic is affordable, it’s just a matter of priorities, it’s all about choices. You can’t have everything,

Does it have to be expensive?

No. Why not try backyard farming, whether you are in Manila or in the province. Pwede sa garden. If you are already a gardener of ornamental plants, a hardinero, why not become a farmer of edible, organic or naturally farmed fruits and vegetables. You can start with potted plants, puede gawin sa bahay.

Pag may lupa ka, farm, mag tanim ka, you don’t have to come here at the weekend market. O, magbenta ka, di yayaman ka pa.

Think of a way, sundan mo lang ang standards for organic farming. It’s a will, if you really want to have healthy food.

Business should also think of investing on organic agriculture or natural farming in the provinces.

The Philippines has vast tracts of land that are not used for farming. Senator Kiko Pangilinan says millions of hectares of agricultural land remain untapped nationwide.

How is the Food Bowl Night Market different?

Here, we aim to educate people.

It’s about time people know how to take care of themselves, we want to instill this in their minds, in their subconscious, about eating healthy, about eating right.

We want more people to be more aware of what they eat to be healthy, because in many ways it’s what you eat that makes you.

At the same time, we and the consumers are enabling the poor farmers in the provinces say, in Benguet; we want to give business to farmers all over the country.

Beyond that, the night market is a venue to promote safe and healthy food, for business development and exchanges of technologies, market, finance, entrepreneurship, capacity building and training, research and development, networking and advocacies.

It is an attempt to undertake greater awareness on the part of major end-users.

The idea is to pool resources to create a growing market demand for organic and naturally grown produce and for linking farm producers through market matching.

Hopefully, the Food Bowl Night Market model is to replicate this concept through the Department of Agriculture’s national networks and through regional and local stakeholders such as non-government organizations and farming cooperatives.

The objective is to promote the trading of organically and naturally grown food and other products then create a demand through product and market matching.

At the forefront will be the Food Bowl Night Market as a showcase for Filipino Food Festivals “Kalakalang Organiko: Ang Galing ng Magsasakang Pilipino”.

Are you competing with other weekend markets?

It’s no competition, because not too many people are into it. From Day 1, this is an advocacy group, we are not competing with other weekend markets; in fact, the more the merrier.

We want to see how it grows here, see what happens. ETON, which operates the venue, shares the same advocacy.

How do you popularize the organic culture?

We wish the Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines (HRAP) will go organic, you know, when part of their menus feature organic foods like brown rice and so on. I will talk to HRAP president Eugene Yap about this.

We need to invest in agricultural entrepreneurship, which some farms have started. Then that’s the time that prices will go down; e ngayon konti pa lang. And while the demand is catching up, the supply side should complement it.

We hope the universities also introduce Agri-Entrepreneurship, especially the Tier 1 schools. The potential is huge and we need to educate students about the good business that agri-entrepreneurship brings. These may be our key to export capacity, which will also help generate jobs nationwide.

It just takes time to energize. It takes time to evolve.

See story http://www.malaya.com.ph/june10/agri2.html

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