Friday, July 29, 2011

P20M, ready for DA’s Rainfed Program to Alleviate Food Production

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is releasing an initial P20 million in the third quarter for a national rainfed program aimed at raising food production in more than one million hectares of land tended by the country’s poorest farmers. 

DA has partnered with India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) to carry out the Philippine Rainfed Agriculture Research and Development and Extension Program (PhiRARDEP).

DA will work on PhilRARDEP through its staff bureaus, Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), together with its Regional Field Units (RFU)- Regional Integrated Agricultural Research Centers (RIARCS), Agricultural Training Institute Regional Training Centers (ATI-RTC) as well as selected State Universities and Colleges (SUCs).

“(DA) Secretary (Proceso) Alcala will release P20 million this August for our rainfed program. We will be implementing programs that we have learned based on how the government of India put its money for what is important,” said ICRISAT Director General William D. Dar.

Coordinating agency for the PhiRARDEP will be BAR.  “PhiRARDEP’s components are rainfed farming innovation; community-based watershed management and soil conservation; policy formation; and capacity building. We will train technicians who will help marginal farmers in raising their income,” said BAR Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar.

While the Philippine government has in the past poured majority of its funding and policy support for irrigated agriculture, rainfed areas have been neglected despite its huge contribution to food production.

“Almost half of our food supply comes from rainfed areas. If it’s developed, maybe this can rise to 60 to 70 percent,” said ICRISAT Communications Director Rex Navarro.

The impact on farmers is also immense. “The Philippines is predominantly rainfed. An estimated 20 million Filipinos are in this area. Farmers only depend on rainfall for their water supply which is why their income is limited specially if they plant only rice. What we’ll do is introduce to them other (drought-resistant) commodities,” said Eleazar.

Farmers in rainfed areas may only plant rice once a year instead of twice due to their rain-dependence. Among alternative crops considered to be drought-resistant or those requiring much less water compared to rice are root crops such as sweet potato and cassava and legumes including peanut, pigeon pea, chickpea, and sweet sorghum.

Alcala has also supported the planting of adlai, a rice-like crop known to be a staple of some Filipino natives in Mindanao, and white corn.

The importance of a rainfed agriculture program is expected to intensify due to the manifestation of climate change which poses a threat of reduction of water supply for agriculture along with increasing temperature or hotter climate.

DA-BAR earlier funded the Community Based Watershed Management (CBWM), a rainwater harvesting technique, in four sites—Tarlac, Bulacan, Ilocos Sur, and Bohol.

According to a DA-BAR-ICRISAT report, Uplands represent about 74 percent of the country. Soil erosion is widespread in these areas with devastating impact on farm household. Poverty, poor infrastructure, lack of institutions and policies, unemployment, and poor health and sanitation are entrenched among these communities,

CBWM is a promising strategy to improve livelihood of upland farmers and abate ecological degradation. Pivotal to the success of CBWM is the participation of natives living in these areas and a program that satisfies their economic needs through relevant livelihood opportunities. These include rice farming, fishing, livestock raising and non-farm programs such as handicraft making.

CBWM taught farmers in these areas to conserve water through techniques like contour farming using hedgerows, trash line, and store lines which are systems of constructing plots that collect excess and store rainwater.

However, the major infrastructure program is the construction of weirs, concrete storage tank, small farm water reservoir, and spring development diversion dam.

Organic agriculture is also part of this program including composting, biogas technology, and liquid fertilizer production.

PhiRARDEP aims to replicate a watershed program of ICRISAT in the 464-hectare Adarsha Watershed, Kothapally in India which despite the abject absence of water or surface water sources like rivers has become a successful farming village.

Through a watershed approach that harnesses rainwater in check dams, sunken pits, and mini percolating tanks, farmers in Adarsha Watershed are able to plant many crops like corn, sorghum, and pigeon pea. As Adarsha's dams recharge the groundwater, their dams have become sources of water that have been able to irrigate 60 hectares as of 1998. Adarsha’s irrigated area even augmented to 160 hectares as of 2008.

Because of the success of Adarsha Watershed, the watershed approach's replication has been sanctioned by a national guideline of the Indian government. It has been multiplied in many Indian districts.

"Our compulsion here was for ICRISAT to come up with a good watershed model that approximates agricultural communities. So in this case even the lowest 500-hectare village can be a watershed," said Dar, a former Philippine DA secretary.

Watershed areas may also expand to 1,000 to 2,000 hectares.

"One of ICRISAT’s biggest contributions in watershed management is on India's national policy taking learning from Kothapally. The guidelines have changed as a result of ICRISAT's experience. They used to have just a few hectares. Now they have made it wider, so the impact is bigger. They also included vulnerable groups like women and children and livelihood programs. Before the original watershed program was just on soil conservation and moisture content," said Dr. Rosana P. Mula, CBWM resource person.

CBWM, implemented in the Philippines since 2005, also had a component for coconut-based processed food production including vinegar, nata de coco, and macaroons.

Source: BAR Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar

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