Hazard resilient agriculture practices in the Philippines

One of the news item that caught my attention a few weeks ago was the prediction of scientists that 2017 would be hotter than 2016: The rise in temperature will put not only discomfort us but will put a strain on our health and will have a negative impact on our agriculture. I hope Secretary Pinol and the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Science and Technology work together to mitigate this. In fact mitigate all hazards — natural and man-made

What ARE THESE HAZARDS?

Natural hazards can geological, meteorological and oceanographical in origin. Specifically, These include: (i) Earthquakes, (ii) Storms, (iii) Tsunamis, (iv) Tidal Surges, (v)Floods, (vi) Sink Holes,(vii) Water Induced Landslide; (viii) Seismic Induced Landslides, (ix) Volcanic Eruptions and (x) Algal Blooms like red tide. On the other hand, Man-made hazards are those that happen because of what man: we did. This may include but not limited to toxic waste, introduction of alien species into the environment, forest fires and nuclear fall-out. In certain instances you will notice a number of natural hazards can be induced or mad worse by our actions, for example rain-induced landslides can occur in areas where heavy logging has happened or certain algal blooms have been caused by the dumping of organic waste into the water.

A quick look at our agriculture statistics at will show how hazards can be devastating — (i) Crops destroyed; (ii) Agricultural infrastructures;  (iii) And the economic cost may ran into the millions even billions. So what is being done now to solve this?

In the past Government’s primary and publicly visible response has been to survey the damage, provide seedlings, provide machinery, provide livestock, provide agricultural and fishery gears, offer loans, provide alternative livelihood and when possible help expedite crop insurance. To be fair the agriculture officers of each municipality have been doing their best to prepare — educate, assist and warn — farmers against hazards: natural and caused by man.

Perhaps given the worsening global conditions — the constant rise in temperature and frequent-consistent occurrence of hazards it is time to make a more proactive approach.

DUMANGAS, ILOILO

Dumangas is a municipality in Iloilo. As you approach the town the road is flanked on both sides by fish ponds, one leading to the sea and the other leading to the mountains. I have been told that Dumangas sits at the center of a river delta — a prime target for floods and tidal surges.The inland part of Dumangas is devoted to agriculture while the seaward side aside from the fish ponds there is a port where trade is done. As a coastal town one of its main industry is fisheries.

As briefly mentioned before, Due to its location the town is a frequently visited by flood, storm, landslide and even seismic hazards. Given these set of hazards, It is interesting and instructive how Dumangas coped with them and developed a hazard resilient agricultural system.

The Climate Field School and the resident Agro-Met of Dumangas

It turns out that Dumangas has been using the Climate Field School — a farmer education and training school — that couples agriculture and meteorology as a hazard resiliency measure. How do they do this?

Climate Field School uses scientific methods to determine and forecast climate conditions. Then given these forecasts, using agriculture science farmers can implement means to safeguard their livelihoods and their crops.

Dumangas has an automatic weather station and receives weather advisories. More importantly Dumangas also has probably the only Agro-Meteorologist in the country — classified as a weather observer. The Agro-Meteorologist — which has an official item and budget in the municipality — not only forecast but gives the farmers on what to do to mitigate an on coming hazard. This measures include but not limited to the following: (I) planting the specific hazard resilient crops — in times of drought rice is replaced with other plants or vegetables; (ii) If possible crops and aquaculture products are harvested before a hazard comes; and (iii) Planting and fisheries can be put on hold when there is a typhoon or gale warning saving money and lives.

One of the factors that made this successful was the strong support given by the Provincial and Municipal Government who partners with National Government Agencies and Non-Government Organizations. For Dumangas at the Local and Provincial level, credit should be given to the efforts of the Mayors of Dumangas (Mayor Distura and the others ) who institutionalized the Climate Field School and Iloilo’s Provincial Agriculture Officer Toledo who built and firmed up the Climate Field School. Also the role of PAGASA training Dumangas’ weather observer cannot be overlooked.

Empowered by the Climate Field School; Assisted by the resident Agro-Met; And supported by the local government, The farmers of Dumangas have been able to be hazard resilient and avoid economic loss — and even make a profit.

Hazard resilient agricultural practices around the Philippines

This is not a Dumangas phenomenon or practice alone. In Cagayan Province, They also use weather and climate forecasting techniques along side with indigenous and learned agriculture methods to adapt and become resilient. One interesting measure in Cagayan Valley is the raquit an animal/crop bin designed to float during floods to keep the livestock and harvest safe. Anti-drought measures such as shifting to drought/flood resistant crop are used.

To be fair, Farmer Field Schools have been in place and used through out the country. It would require a bit tweaking to convert them into Climate Field Schools.

THE TASK AHEAD

The more daunting task would be the following: (i) To expand the agro-met services around the country so that the expertise on hazard; (ii) To institutionalized the climate field school and the agro-met practices around the country; (iii) To have the farmers and fisherfolk buy in to the concept, importance and economic value of hazard resilient agriculture and fisheries practices; and (iv) Somewhat related, rejuvenate and recruit new blood for the farmer and fishery community at all levels; and you can only do this if agriculture is resilient, profitable and has the support of both National and Local Government.

 

This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) 

Juned Sonido is a blogger, infomation specialist; digital media, social media and on line reputation management specialist; He is currently a lecturer at the Science and Society Program of the UP College of Science and a Senior Media Consulant for the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) and a STC for the World Bank. He blogs at Baratillo Pamphlet a commentary and analysis blog.

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