Jonjon Sarmiento, more popularly known as Farmer Jon, is a community organizer, volunteer manager of the SALIKA Farmers Cooperative, and sustainable agriculture farmer and advocate.
Aside from running Kuatro MariaS Agriecology Farm in Oriental Mindoro, he also launched Padyak Touro: Krisis sa Klima Pilipinas, where he bikes around the province to give lectures on the climate crisis.
His advocacy started in 1998 after reading David Suzuki’s book “It’s a Matter of Survival.”
“I was alarmed,” he shares in Tagalog. “My daughter was three then. I really did feel how everything would change from year to year—the strength of the winds, the flow of streamwater, and because of chemical inputs, the lessening of agricultural diversity.”
He cites pako (Diplazium esculentum), a foraged fiddlehead fern used in salads, as an example. “We used to have a lot of pako growing by the stream but they started disappearing, so I had to start planting them!”
A worldwide threat
In 2010, he started working with farmers’ group PAKISAMA (Pambansang Kilusan ng Samahang Magsasaka), where he was given the opportunity to travel the country and overseas to learn and talk about climate change.
One of the ideas he has been putting forth since this time is the importance of regenerative agriculture in mitigating climate change, using rehabilitation projects in Leyte after Typhoon Yolanda. “They don’t want to talk about agriculture because they’re focused on fossil fuel,” he says of the international audience. “They say it’s too political.”
The best example of the soundness of his argument is his own farm, which only took 21 days to bounce back after being affected by Typhoon Nona.
Agriculture against climate change
The climate emergency has only gotten worse, with even the United Nations joining numerous climate scientists and advocates in sounding the alarm.
Sarmiento himself has felt the effects over time and in 2020, in the middle of the nationwide quarantines imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19, he decided to take action. The tightening of borders during the lockdown meant that he couldn’t leave the province, so he decided to work within it.
First, he biked around Oriental Mindoro giving lectures on combating hunger during the lockdown through agriculture. “I taught ‘Community Organic Vegetable Gardening in 30 Days’ on Facebook because that’s how long the lockdown was,” he relates.
When, in November 2020, it seemed like the pandemic wasn’t going away, Sarmiento got on his bike and started Padyak Touro, where he spoke to both citizens and lawmakers about the importance of addressing the climate crisis on both an individual and community-wide scale.
Ask him about it and he’s still in awe that he got away with it. Armed with his policy advocacy, he biked around the province stopping in every barangay to talk about the climate crisis. Because of this, not only was he able to hold (socially distanced) lectures, but he was also able to push for the creation of a Food Security and Ecological Council in several municipalities. On April 22, 2021, Oriental Mindoro established a Provincial Council and Ecological Food System.
“The first thing affected by the climate crisis is food,” Sarmiento explains. “…it’s why (adopting an) integrated diversified organic farming system is part of strategy.”
Another project Sarmiento is working on is watershed preservation. “We have a lot of watersheds in Mindoro and they’re all (in) critical (condition), but none of them have been declared protected areas, which is why they’re still being destroyed,” he says.
A national concern
His work isn’t just relegated to his province. He is also raising awareness about the need for a Farmers and Fisherfolk Climate Emergency Fund on a national level. “The Climate Change Commission has a People’s Survival Fund that’s difficult to access,” he explains, adding that he hopes this can be used for farm development after a natural disaster.
“I’m hoping that after the next typhoon, farmers don’t just get P5000 in relief funds, but a chance to fully recover,” he says. “That fund can be used as a strategy for transformation into climate resilient farming…It’s quite compartmentalized to be talking about climate-smart interventions without taking land and biodiversity into consideration.”
He adds that focusing on regenerative agriculture will not only address food security, but other environmental concerns, including soil erosion, soil fertility, and carbon sequestration as well.
Sarmiento is quick to add that converting into a climate-smart farm isn’t instant. Farmers will need money to make the switch, which will take at least a decade to be fully integrated, which makes proper accessing, distribution and use of the funds even more important.
“I (started Padyak Touro) because on a local level, this is something that can be done by a municipality… to benefit smallholder farmers,” he says.
Mobilizing the community
Another activity that Sarmiento managed to incorporate into Padyak Touro is tree planting. At the time of the interview, he and his team had planted 4,000 trees on Mt. Halcon and they’ve also adopted the river tributaries of Naujan Lake. They are also in talks with an investor on planting bamboo in the province because it’s a crop that can help both the climate and the local economy. “They grow 10 times faster than trees and you don’t have to cut the whole thing down when you harvest them,” Sarmiento explains. “And it’s also edible.”
But where did the seedlings for the tree planting activities come from? This is where Sarmiento’s talents as a community organizer comes into play. He commissioned some mothers in one of the communities he works with to grow native tree seedlings for him for extra cash. When it’s time to seek funding or plant the seedlings, he puts out a call for volunteers on Facebook. He works with the local Sanguniaang Kabataan as well as with civic organizations like the Mindoro Bikers Club (MBC), some of whom help him monitor the trees even after they’re planted.
“This way, the mothers have part-time employment, and people who otherwise wouldn’t know how to engage with the community are given the chance to help, (either by donating money or time),” he says. “That’s why I’m not afraid to start initiatives. Because there will always be support.”
He adds that documentation and transparency is important in order to gain and keep the trust of the community members involved and of the public in general. “We take photos (of the activities) and tally up the expenses and post everything on Facebook,” he says. “Where the (planting materials) came from and where they were planted.”
Some of the trees planted include coffee, cacao, and jackfruit, whose fruits can be harvested in the future, even if the trees are left alone. This is tied to the future plan of building a social enterprise through the sale of value added products from these food forests.
“Everything we do is connected to the sustainability of the island,” Sarmiento says. “My only agenda (in doing all this) is I’m afraid of going hungry.”
Photos courtesy of Farmer Jon Sarmiento