Upland farmers adopt smart farming techniques


Philippine EnviroNews, Mindanao, Philippines

               Food security

Climate change and other environmental issues – water scarcity, deforestation, erosion, drought—are likely to have major impacts on the agricultural sector to which farmers to have to adapt.

In Mindanao, for instance, the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) developed for the past years various farming technologies and trained thousands of farmers and technicians not only from the Philippines but also from other parts of the world.

Recently, MBRLC, a non-profit organization based in Bansalan, Davao del Sur introduced the Sloping Agricultural Land Technology (SALT).

Roy C. Alimoane, the director of the MBRLC said,: “The principle of SALT is the same as that used by the Ifugao tribes in Mountain Province. All we are doing is suggesting using different nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs instead of rocks.”

Examples of nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs are “kakawate” (Gliricidia sepium), “ipil-ipil” (Leucaena leucocephala), and the introduced species Flemingia macrophylla, Desmodium rensonii, and Indigofera anil.  These are thickly planted in double rows to form hedgerows.

When a hedge is one-and-half to two meters tall, it is cut back to a height of 40 centimeters and the cuttings are placed in the strips between the hedgerows to serve as organic fertilizer.

The SALT scheme requires careful management of the space between the hedgerows. A combination of permanent, semi-permanent, and annual crops is recommended so as to rebuild the ecosystem and maximize yields while enabling farmers to organize their work time efficiently.

One good thing about SALT is that is a farmer’s ally against soil erosion. “The nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs help control erosion,” Alimoane explains.  A study conducted at the MBRLC farm showed the rate of soil loss in a SALT farm is 3.4 metric tons per hectare per year, which is within the tolerable range.

Most soil scientists place acceptable soil loss limits for tropical countries within the range of 10 to 12 metric tons per hectare per year.  The non-SALT farm has an annual soil loss rate of 194.3 metric tons per hectare per year.

Another advantage of SALT: it can withstand the onslaught of the dry spell brought about by El Niño.  The cost and return analysis of the SALT demonstration plot showed that during the El Niño in 1983, the system still managed to give a monthly net income of P436.90.  The previous figure, in 1982, was P597.85 per month.  Reported studies showed that most upland farmers in the country during that time get a measly income of only P300 per month.

In 1990, when another drought hit Mindanao, the SALT system had a monthly net income of P1,277.31.  This was only 54.34 lower than the previous reported monthly net income of P1,331.74 in 1989.

Alimoane added that the problem of malnutrition can be solved by adopting Simple Agro-Livestock Technology (SALT 2).

“We found out that one of the biggest problems in the uplands today is malnutrition, aside from soil erosion,” Alimoane said.  “Most of them don’t have sources of protein.  So, we introduce goat raising into the system so that they can have milk and meat as protein sources.”

Another possible solution to the malnutrition problem is Food Always In The Home (FAITH).  “FAITH is a type of vegetable gardening that can provide the necessary protein, vitamins and mineral requirements needed by a family with six members,” Alimoane said.  “We designed it in such a way that it requires minimum labor.”

Aside from providing food, the non-conventional scheme can also reduce a farmer’s heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides which pose health hazards and wreak havoc on the environment.

Deforestation continues unabated in most parts of the country.  Without trees, there is a tendency that water crisis will ensue.  Planting trees have been touted as one possible solution to the climate change brought about by global warming.

MBRLC develops Sustainable Agroforest Land Technology (SALT 3).  This two-hectare model farm is divided into two parts: one hectare for crop production (for food security and income generation for the farmer) and another hectare for trees (which are planted at the upper portion of the farm to serve as watershed and to protect the soil from erosion).