Oliver Samson presents the story of Rosalina S. Tan, a 70 year-old advocate for organic farming. An inspiring person and an inspiring story:
ROSALINA S. TAN, owner of Nature Wonders Enterprises, a company engaged in making organic cosmetic products, is still active at 70. She is an epitome of a healthy and active septuagenarian. Her day is spoiled if she has nothing to do.
‘There is no life in being idle,” she said. “You will get sick in doing nothing.’
This workaholic Chinese lady is second among 10 children. Their father passed away when her mother was 37, when the youngest in the brood was only four years old. Their mother did everything she could to raise them, which included putting up and running a sari-saristore and driving a trailer truck to deliver goods to Balintawak.
Tan duplicates her mother’s diligence. She has run Nature Wonders Enterprises since 2007, and happy that all her products are organic and laced with pili oil. To her, pili oil parallels olive oil. She produces lipsticks, lip balms, soaps, shampoos, skin lotions and hand sanitizers.
Tan is also into the packaging business with animal feed giants like San Miguel Corp. She publishes the quarterly Organic magazine. She has two children, whom she calls “good fruits” reared in her simple style of parenting. Both have their own family now. Her husband passed away 12 years ago.
Tan’s advocacy for organic farming began to take root in the 1990s. It started to germinate when a friend convinced her that rice grown with pesticides is laden with toxic substances.
‘It inspired me to investigate,’ she said. ‘So I bought organic and non-organic rice. I had them analyzed by the Bureau of Lands. I spent a few thousand pesos to see the difference.’
The bureau confirmed that the staple grains raised with pest killers were soiled with toxic chemicals. But this finding was not yet adequate for Tan. She conducted a research, which further established the agency’s conclusion.
‘I never thought about it before,’ she said. ‘It could be the reason many people today are ill. It starts from the food they eat. Most people presume that everything they buy in the market is safe to eat.’
Tan shared the information with her friends. Some dismissed it, saying they have been eating rice grown with insect-repellents for years.
‘I would say killing us softly,”’she said. ‘One may not die but get ill and suffer many health problems.’
Tan started to further her cause by producing organic fertilizer in 1993. She sourced the big hog and poultry raisers in the country for compost, which included Lucio Tan’s Foremost Farms in Antipolo, one of the biggest animal farms in Asia during the time.
Recycling animal waste into organic fertilizer was an act of doing service to the environment, she said. It helped the government discharge its duties and fertilized the soil while earning at the same time.
Tan’s advocacy led her to encounter problems confronting farmers who, like her, raised and sold their own crops. Her actual experience in tilling her land made her realize that people directly involved in growing food suffer from stern market behavior and the unforgiving strokes of nature.
‘When I started organic farming, I realized why most farmers are poor,’she said. ‘They are the ones who produce food, yet they are the poorest sector.’
She cultivated cabbage that sold for P25 a kilo. When she was about to harvest, its price took a sharp curve to P5. Such experience moved her heart to care about grassroot farmers.
‘Most consumers don’t care,” she said. “All they care for is getting their purchase for cheap. They don’t have any idea how difficult farming is.’
In 1995 Tan co-founded Organik Producers and Traders Association (Opta) with a fellow organic-farming advocate, Mara Pardo de Tavera. Opta is a group of farmers pushing for organic-crop raising with about 500 members nationwide. She chaired it for 10 years. They organized weekend markets in Greenhills, and later on Magsaysay Avenue in Naga City.
Opta dreams about setting up a school for organic farming. She is its chairman emeritus.
Tan also put up an organic cooperative in 2004 to help organic farmers sell their produce.
In the early 2000s she started to travel to Mindanao and Baguio to give lectures on organic farming.
Efforts were pushed before Asian countries began their own. But the Philippines continues to lag behind. Asian neighbors are exporting organic products while the country has yet to raise the production level of organic farming.
‘Many have passion for organic farming,’ she said. ‘But they come and go because they are not earning. The government should support.’
Opta had lobbied for the creation of a Philippine National Organic Agriculture Development Council. During the stint of former Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, its creation was approved. Yap advised Opta to ask the government for budget. The council is keen on developing organic crop-raising in the country.
Currently, organic farming is allotted P900 million to bankroll its development, Tan said. Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala supports Opta’s efforts. So did former Secretary Chito Lorenzo during his time, who extoled the national convention of organic producers as “very productive.”
In 2002 Tan established the Save Our Soil Foundation, anchored on the principle of healthy nutrition based on the fertility of soil.
Tan believes Metro Manila will decongest if the government starts training people to maximize the use of their land in the province. After training, the government should support them to sustain their farming endeavors.
Many urban inhabitants were farmers who owned land,but had no adequate idea to properly utilize their land and market crops, she said.
Tan also believes governance should be simplified. She finds the process in tax payment complicated.
‘Life should be just simple,’ she said. ‘Let’s not complicate it.’
Tan is developing a retirement farm in Pili, Camarines Sur, where she put a 100- square-meter greenhouse and two ponds. A building is currently being constructed. It will play host to seminars, researches and studies. Foreigners will be invited to share knowledge and technology.
‘I will not quit until a Filipino family can survive from organic farming,’ she said.
In Photo: Rosalina S. Tan owns Nature Wonders Enterprises, an organic cosmetic company in Greenhills, San Juan City. She enjoys working with younger people, whom she says she learns from. (Oliver Samson)