Opinion


Evergreen Agriculture




Map Insights
By Jose Rene C. Gayo

Posted on April 17, 2012


It has been reported that the poorest of the poor Filipinos can be found among those who are living in the uplands and those in the coastal areas. The former are generally referred to as kaingineros or swidden farmers, and the latter are those dependent on subsistence fishing for their livelihood. Let me focus on what can be done for our kaingineros to lift them out of poverty.

Oftentimes, they have been blamed for the denudation of our forests. But they are only secondary agents. The first to come in and strip our mountains are the irresponsible loggers of the past decades who cut logs with no intention of replanting what they have removed. Unfortunately, this is still happening up to this day. Then comes the kaingineros who clean up the logged over areas to plant crops like upland rice, corn, root crops, vegetables and others for their food requirements and whatever little there is as surplus is brought down to the market.

Such an agricultural system is not sustainable because productivity is low; soils are depleted because of erosion. As soon as top soil is gone, they move on to new areas to cultivate and the cycle goes on. In the meantime, since soils are degraded, cogon takes over and it would take decades before trees can be grown again in those areas. This explains why today much of the forest lands we have are really just cogonal lands.

Is there a way out of this predicament?

Fortunately, there is Evergreen Agriculture. It is a farming system whereby trees are planted side by side with crops and even livestock. This system combines agroforestry with the principles of conservation farming. Evergreen Agriculture is emerging as an affordable and accessible science-based solution to caring better for the land and increasing smallholder food production.

According to the World Agroforestry Centre, conservation farming is already practiced on around 100 million hectares of land worldwide. It involves three well-established principles:

• Disturbing the soil as little as possible (i.e. minimum or zero tillage);

• Keeping the soil covered with organic material such as crop residues;

• Rotating and diversifying crops, especially making use of leguminous species that replenish soil nutrients.

The addition of agroforestry to conservation farming offers multiple livelihood benefits to farmers, including sources of green fertilizer to build healthier soils and enhance crop production, and providing fruits, medicines, livestock fodder, timber and fuel wood. There are environmental benefits too, in the form of shelter, erosion control, more effective water cycles and watershed protection, increased biodiversity, greater resilience to climate change, and carbon storage and accumulation. In fact, one tropical tree can sequester at least 22.6 kilograms of carbon from the atmosphere each year.

In a newly released UN report on sustainable development, a whole section outlining a case for a new green revolution is included. While praising the gains from the first green revolution, the report suggests it has served its purpose and it may be contributing to ongoing environmental challenges. The report is urging what is dubbed as an evergreen revolution that “increases productivity while reduces resources intensity and protects biodiversity.” It advocates Evergreen Agriculture as a climate smart agriculture that uses principles of agroforestry to develop sustainable agriculture. The report stated that in this system, smallholder farmers have enormous untapped potential to increase yields, stimulate rural economies and become export earners instead of net food buyers.

SOME EXAMPLES

In the province of Negros Oriental, there is very little virgin forest left. But there are still pockets of “forests” dotting the otherwise cogonal landscape. These consist of a few hectares to at most a few hundred hectares where trees are kept standing because farmers have planted coffee under the canopy of trees. Thanks to the coffee that provides cash income to these farmers; otherwise, these trees have long been downed for lumber or charcoal. Coffee grown under forest shade is reputed to be of good quality since it takes a longer period for coffee berries to mature in such conditions. Leaves that are shed from the trees when these decompose also provide natural organic fertilizer to coffee trees. Thus, coffees grown under shade are organic by default.

In a farm I visited in Bukidnon, Brazilian Golden Shower trees are grown that can be harvested in only six years. Wood from this tree is good for lumber and veneer production. The farm owner also told me that the leaves of this tree are good for forage. Planted at a certain distance to provide open spaces in between, the farmer can also grow cash crops and animals like goats and cattle.

In Narra, Palawan, I saw not our typical cattle ranches in the Philippines where cattle forage in open areas bereft of trees. Here you see cattle inside a forested area but with open spaces in between trees. Such type of cattle ranching is what is referred to as small environmental impact animal raising.

Just one more example. The sloping agricultural land technology (SALT) developed by the late Rev. Harold Ray Watson who was given a Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding in 1985 for his work. In the SALT system, one can farm in the uplands by integrating forest trees with cash crops, fruit trees, and even animals.

NEXT STEPS

Over the past three decades since I have been conscious of the issue of disappearing forests, the government through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) must have spent several hundred billion pesos in reforestation and forest-related projects including those funded by foreign grants and loans. But what is there to show except that much of our forest lands are cogonal lands sans the forest. Under the current administration, the much touted National Greening Program will again spend billions of pesos in the next few years to plant trees. But we all know that planting trees is not enough. There is a need to take care of the tree, nurture it for at least two years before we can safely assume they grow to maturity. But if the kaingineros are not given enough economic incentives to keep these trees standing, they will soon be felled for lumber and charcoal production.

Given this experience, I strongly recommend to the DENR people, corporations, NGOs, academe, foreign donors and others supportive of reforestation projects to incorporate the concept of Green Agriculture in their projects. It is only when kaingineros find a better source of livelihood than cutting trees will we hope to see that seedling planted today grows to be a mature, majestic tree in the years to come.

Green Agriculture also offers hope to the marginal fisher folks. It has been reported by the World Wildlife Fund that fish catch in the country has been declining. Part of the problem is pollution caused by runoffs of fertilizers and pesticides, and soil erosion that destroy corals along coastlines. There is a need to put in place a holistic strategy that starts from the ridges to the reefs. Evergreen Agriculture hopes to provide the solution to the problems in the ridges and to enlist our kaingineros as “Evergreen Revolutionaries” transforming them from “environmental degradators” to “environmental champions.” That should give them back their dignity as Filipinos who help build for a better future for our children and their children’s children while making better their own lives out of the proverbial cycle of poverty.

The article is the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is vice-chairman of the MAP agribusiness and countryside development committee, and dean of the MFI Farm Business School. Feedback at map@globelines.com.ph. For previous articles, please visit www.map.org.ph.