Workshop on “Scaling Up Decentralized and Community-Based Renewable Energy Systems in the Philippines

A two-day workshop on “Scaling-up Decentralized and Community-Based Renewable Energy Systems in the Philippines”, was held on 25 – 26 February 2015 at the Mangarita Organic Farm in Barangay Manga, Capas, Tarlac.  The event was organized jointly by Sibol ng Agham at Teknolohiya (SIBAT) and Greenpeace Southeast Asia Philippines with support from Climate Action Network-International (CAN).  It was attended by 21 representatives from NGOs, four (4) Microhydro partners from Apayao and Nueva Viscaya, academe, and individual consultants working in the Renewable Energy sector.

The Workshop did a stock-taking of all implemented decentralized and community-based RE systems, through the presentation made by Victoria Lopez, SIBAT’s Executive Director. She discussed the developmental framework on which community-based renewable energy systems are anchored, that includes respect to cultural traditions and recognition of the ownership and stewardship by the community of their water and renewable energy resources. She explained that despite the lack of policy support, the communities have sustained their CBRES for more than 20 years, and had effects in transforming the lives of people. To support this claim, the PO representatives from Apayao and Nueva Viscaya shared their stories on tackling the hardships they went through in building the Microhydro power, in sustaining these and in conquering all challenges through hard work and determination.  The PO representatives claimed that the projects have empowered them as communities, beyond providing them with energy for their basic and productive needs.

The stories invoked varied perspectives from the participants.  Some of the words elicited in the exchanges were: “empowering,” “sense of awe,” “does not impose on local values,” “lighted up hope,” “magical,” “bridges communities,” “encourage love,” “positive advocacy,” “solutions-focused” and “transforming lives.”

Mr. Roberto Verzola gave a presentation entitled “Crossing Over: The Energy Transition to Renewable Electricity”, that provided a brief overview of the current policy environment for renewable energy development and current socio-political realities of shifting towards cleaner and more sustainable sources of energy.  The lecture advocated for the maximization of use of renewable energy so all energy needs can be sourced out from renewables, avoiding the dependence trap or of being “locked-in” on fossil fuels, including coal technology.

Mr. Erwin Serafica, Program Manager of Renewable Energy Association of the Philippines (REAP), talked on the Philippine energy situation and the need to ensure energy security to lessen dependence on imported energy with emphasis on renewable and green resources. He pointed out the need to employ innovative and alternative solutions towards the judicious utilization of energy resources. He also discussed the challenges of decentralized, community based renewable energy systems vis-à-vis the current energy-related laws in the Philippines like the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 and Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA). He proposed a harmonization of current policy and regulatory frameworks to provide a horizontal separation between large-scale RE and CBRES developers,  for the CBRES framework to fully develop.

A set of presentations came from academic and civil-society players who are mostly practitioners of decentralized and community based energy systems. Most of their presentations talked about the practices and challenges they have experienced in implementing decentralized RE and CBRES.

Dr. Renyl Barroca, Ph.D. of Ateneo de Davao University, explained that as part of the university’s effort in advocating vigorously for environmental protection, the University established the Center for Renewable Energy and Appropriate Technology (CREATE), to focus on environmental protection through green and environment-friendly technologies. Given such mandate, Dr. Barroca said that CREATE has been able to help communities affected by Typhoon Pablo  in 2012 and continues to find and research on innovations for solar technology and other renewable energy systems.

Ms. Dipti Vaghela of Hydro Empowerment Network gave an Asian perspective through a presentation that highlighted experiences from Indonesia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Ms. Vaghela’s organization works on micro-hydro programs in the South and Southeast Asian regions. The presenter focused on the organizations’ mission of getting people and the environment to work together through technology advancement. Its main thrust is to transform knowledge exchange into action, by building the capacity of community-level change agents for technology design and dissemination and building sustainability mechanisms. These are translated into engagement like knowledge exchange, advocacy strategies and research and innovation. The organization also faces challenges like technology gaps and access to funding. To cap her session, a short film on Microhydro power grids in Nepal was presented to the group.

Finally Mr. Reuben Muni of GreenPeace, talked about the global strategy that was developed by his organization, premised on the principles of fair energy access for all, and respect of natural limits on natural resources.  This strategy has three elements: energy efficiency, renewable energy and the smart grid. The latter, the integration of energy efficiency and renewable energy systems in the production and distribution of electricity.

Finally, recommendations were also formulated through workshops, in the areas of: policy development, financing, communication/storytelling, and technology and knowledge management.

Organic Farmers and Consumers Pursue Participatory Guarantee System (PGS)

Small farmers and advocates in the province of Tarlac, are pursuing PGS or the Participatory Guarantee System, as alternative to the provision under section 17 of RA10068 otherwise known as Organic Agriculture Law, that says produce checked by Third Party Certification (TPC)  are  only the ones  allowed to be labeled as organically produced .  The label shall contain the name, logo or seal of organic certifying body and the accreditation number issued by the Bureau of Agriculture Fisheries Product standards ( BAFPS).

Farmers frowned at the exorbitant cost of Third party certification with a tag price ranging from P30-40 thousand pesos per crop valid for only one year.  This amount is way beyond the purse of small farmers who have perennial problems accessing for even a small capital for production. Only rich farmers or corporations can afford Third Party certification.  The provision has become a deterrent and disincentive for small chemical farmers comprising a large percentage of the farming populace to switch to organic farming.

The PGS which is now widely adhered to and accepted by international organic movements such as the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM) and recognized even by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as a pro-small farmer alternative to Third party certification.   PGS is built on trust and integrity of the primary stakeholders, i.e., farmers and consumers   who conduct the certification process themselves,   through adherence to certification standards, guidelines, regulations and processes similarly observed by Third party certification.

SIBAT pushes for the PGS certification approach in the province and acts as the Secretariat of PGS Tarlac.  It has given PGS trainings since 2014 and has come up with   the operations manual and standards for vegetable production, certification process flow, roles and responsibilities of inspectors and quality control officers.  To date, SIBAT has organized the formal structure of the PGS organization and is presently preparing to process applications in June 2015. By end of this year, PGS Tarlac will start producing farmers with organic certification in the province.

Paraiso Organic Tiangge Opens in Tarlac City

Consumers  and health buffs came in droves  to the first Friday opening of the Organic Food Tiangge, participated by 12 organic producers in Tarlac last March 20.    Urged by the demands of organic producers and farmers in the province for an outlet of their produce, the Department of Agriculture in Region 3 allotted a space in front of its building in Paraiso, Capas, Tarlac for an Organic Tiangge that opens to the public every Friday.   The DA subsidizes seller-producers by providing booths and promotional assistance.

There are 12 initial  sellers in the  tiangge  each carrying a wide  array of products  ranging from fresh organic vegetables, processed organic food items like peanut butter, chips, herbal products , eggs  and even  delicious organic lechon.

The selling group was led by SIBAT’s Mangarita Organic Farm (MOF), the Capas Organic Farmers Producers Cooperative (COFPC) and the Association of Tarlac Organic Producers (ATOP).   The group aims for the Organic Tiangge to become a mainstay in Tarlac and attract more consumers to buy from the produce of organic farmers.