(Photo by JM Zap)

Ecological agriculture
key to food stability

(Dr. Elderico Tabal, PhD)

Published: July 15, 2019 01:25pm | Puerto Prinsesa


Imagine how crowded the Philippines could become in 2030. The current population is already more than 107 million and is expected to hit 109 million by the end of 2019 according to the Philippine Population Commission. Food self-sufficiency will surely preoccupy whoever is in government. In contrast with the 20th century, when food was relatively cheaper, the 21st century is expected to see food prices rise as a result of food shortage. Hence, “the world is just one poor harvest away from chaos in the grain markets. Food prices will rise to previously sunimaginable levels. Food riots will multiply, political unrest will spread and governments will fall,” said Lester Russell Brown, founder and president of Earth Policy Institute, based in Washington D.C. In the Philippines, food demand will rise while land areas for low land agriculture will continue to shrink due to human pressure and will further escalate food shortage. Eventually not be able to meet the two of the most important Sustainable Development Goals (SGD 1 & 2) set by the Food and Agriculture or FAO and that is to “end poverty and hunger”.

Ecosystems in the uplands are very attractive for utilization because of its rich natural resources. However, the unregulated and often indiscriminate activities done to meet food demands in these fragile ecosystems have led to the degradation of the upland habitat. Widespread cutting of forest resources which resulted in the loss of habitats and biodiversity. Charcoal making from wood products have become a lucrative enterprise which pose an alarming concern on forest ecosystems. This practice lives open areas vulnerable for change in land uses. One of these is the practice of slash and burn or “kaingin system” which contributed to further soil degradation and loss of natural soil-biodiversity. Soil erosion is one form of soil degradation and if left unattended it will continue to bring negative effects to lowland communities and in coastal areas. Soil is not only the major natural resource on which human being depends for the production of food but also plays a key role in maintaining the complex terrestrial ecosystems and climate systems of our planet.

According to the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD), the recent rapid increase in human population has placed a great strain on the Philippines’ soil resources. The continuing population pressure required the use of more lands to meet food demand, which had resulted in massive deforestation causing undesirable ‘on and off-site’ consequences. The practice of ‘till-plant-and-fertilize’ cropping pattern has caused constant threats to the upland ecosystems. These constraints are expected to escalate as food demand is expected to increase. The solution to the problem of providing enough food in the future now depends on the extent of productivity level of our available lands including those lands which are too steep to till but are currently used for agriculture. However, uplands or steeped land conditions used for agriculture can further induce soil erosion which will lead to soil fertility loss and crop yield decline.

The Yamang Bukid Farm or YB Farm located in Barangay Bacungan, Puerto Princesa has exemplified the so called “forest-coupled-agriculture”, a system coined by Dr. Baguinod, a retired professor of the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB). This is a modified model of ecological agriculture considered by the Food and Agriculture Organization or FAO as an outstanding mitigating measure to help address environmental hazards and conservation of the upland ecosystems. This strategic objective within the work of the FAO opens the door more widely to ecological approaches to agriculture. It explicitly recognizes that sustainability is as much a goal as production, and the two must be attained together. Ecosystem services, the multitude of benefits that nature provides to society – underpin agricultural production. Understanding the important functions of these services – from maintaining soil health to natural pest control and pollination – is vital, said Barbara Herren of Sustainable Food Trust based in the US.

This is why Yamang Bukid Farm is focused on “ecosystem services and biodiversity for food and agriculture” or simply the “forest-coupled-agriculture system” in the uplands in order to ensure healthy farming that promotes healthy soil environments and sustainability of healthy food supply for today and tomorrow for the Filipino people and the world. This is FAO’s ultimate hope on sustainable food production system by protecting soil, water and climate, promotes biodiversity, and does not contaminate the environment with chemical inputs and genetically engineered materials.

(Dr. Elderico Tabal holds a PhD degree of agronomy from the University of the Philippines-Los Banos and is a consultant for Yamang Bukid Farm. Doc Rico also teaches various agronomy and forestry courses at a state university in western Mindanao)

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Agriculture flunker gets 2nd chance with Yamang Bukid

  • He dreamed of becoming a musician and Daniel John Zabala ended up trying to become an agriculturist.
    A native of Palawan, the 26-year old is one of two aspiring agriculturists Yamang Bukid Healthy Products Inc. (YBHPI) is funding to take this year’s licensure examinations. The would-be examinees are in the thick of their review classes at the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB).

    “While being an agriculture in itself is good, it’s still better if you pass the exams and get a license,” Zabala said during an interview at the foot of a tall monument at the UPLB grounds.
    His love for farming sprouted when he was still young, although his family was not really into farming. “I just love to grow plants. I love farming,” Zabala said, adding this motivated him to take up agriculture.

    After graduating from college at a university in Palawan, Zabala did not take the exam immediately. He went to Manila and worked for a call center company, doing punishing graveyard shifts that took a heavy toll on his health. He only lasted months before deciding to return to Palawan.

    He got a job at the city agriculture office in Puerto Princesa, doing special projects in the barangays. While it was somehow a rewarding job, Zabala still yearned to become a licensed agriculturist and improve his career. He therefore decided to take the boards years after he had graduated. “I started my self-review routine but found it quite difficult because I’ve been out of school for a long time already,” said Zabala. Nevertheless, he still took the exams. He failed.

    Zabala said he was saddened but undeterred by the results. He continued his job visiting the barangays of Puerto Princesa doing technical works, until he came to Yamang Bukid Farm, an agri-tourism destination at Barangay Bacungan that is becoming popular among locals and visitors. Zabala said he was struck by the uniqueness of the agri-tourism farm because it operates based on novel ideas, like not having an entrance fee for visitors. He also appreciated how the farm cares for its employees, particularly the farmers who were given a chance to turn a new leaf after engaging in illegal logging and other destructive forest activities as means of livelihood.

    That’s why Zabala readily accepted an offer of employment extended by the farm management, leaving his government job of a year-and-half. There, Zabala immediately embraced the farm’s culture and made friends with the employees.

    “I found working at YB (Yamang Bukid Farm) very fulfilling. i adjusted well with the working environment. They let you learn and improve at the same time,” Zabala said. Apart from getting a compensation well above his previous income, Zabala also got additional bonus when he the farm offered to shoulder his review and board exam expenses.

    “I could not contain my happiness. God gave me the second chance to reach my dream of getting a license through Yamang Bukid’s generosity,” Zabala said, vowing to make good his second attempt.

    For his second try, the aspiring agriculturist sees to it that he is well-prepared. “I have to read many modules. The board exams is for those who have so much knowledge. You can’t rely on a single module and expect to pass.” Whether he makes it this time might be not yet certain, but Zabala was sure he would stay working with Yamang Bukid Farm after the board exams.
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Farmers, tourists toil for art at Palawan attraction

  • PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—Hundreds of farmworkers in a farm tourism destination here literally tried their hands on a painting session that showcased their talents and opened up their dreams and life aspirations on canvas. The hand-painting session dubbed “Guhit ni Ama (Father’s Drawing)” is a project involving employees of emerging farm tourism destination Yamang Bukid Farm in Barangay Bacungan here.

    A lady tourist shows off her opus "I love Agutaya" during a hand painting event by farmer-employees and guests at Yamang Bukid Farm-Palawan recently
    (photo by Jennifer Milante)

    Part of drumming up its fifth Agros Festival for farmers, the sprawling agri-tourism attraction initiated the event “to honor all farmers and give them an avenue for their artistic skills they they usually underestimate,” said Bro. George Maria, Yamang Bukid Farm’s vice president for community relations.
    Initiating the activity were brothers Adonis and Julius Opiala and J-joy Umambong, the farm’s resident visual artists.

    Body of work created by farmers and tourists during a hand-painting event by farmer-employees and guests at Yamang Bukid Farm-Palawan recently
    (photos by Reden Villaester)

    Most of the artworks centered about the farmers’ simple dreams and environment, with subjects like houses between rolling hills, a garden with sunflowers labelled “Yamang Bukid Farm” and standalone sunflowers.
    Interestingly, the activity caught the attention of other farm employees as well as guests who dirtied their hands to try their painting skills.

    Their subjects were as diverse—about two islands and a boat against a red sky and signed with “I love Agutaya”, to a messy attempt at psychedelic impressionism, and to a gray cloud against a blue horizon which according to the artist, was the noxious Indonesian haze now blanketing Palawan’s skyline.

    Against a background of sunflowers, farmers literally try their hands on painting their dreams and aspirations during an art session at Yamang Bukid Farm-Palawan recently
    (photo by Frinston Lim)

    “I’m surprised I can paint,” exclaimed farmer Sonny Tesado, who worked in one hand due to a disability caused by a motorcycle accident several years back, showing his painting of a huge tree with what appears like sunflowers growing around it. “This activity showed our farmers are not only creative at growing food but also at drawing their aspirations on canvas,” said Maria.

    The event’s output were put on display at a kiosk converted as temporary open gallery inside the farm, where guests can buy the artworks for as low as P350 each, with the sales revenue going back to the farmer-artists.

    With the overwhelming success of the activity, Maria said they were considering to hold it on a regular basis, probably once in a month.
    (JL)
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YB partners with DA for
'farm entrepreneurship'

  • Yamang Bukid Farm (YBF) has partnered with the Department of Agriculture (FA) to elevate farming and agro-tourism in the country by teaching farmers a better, science-based, alternative approach and perspective in growing crops, and by encouraging the younger generation to get more involved in agriculture.

    Agriculturist Flor Ilao of the DA's Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) said the agency decided to award YB with an accreditation because of the company's desire to help the government turn farmers from regular crop growers to "farmer entrepreneurs."

    DA's senior agriculturist Norberto C. Maur said the ATI and YB aim to introduce programs about new modalities in agricultural extension in which regular farmers are molded to become farm entrepreneurs and businessmen promoting not only farming but also farm tourism.

    Through the YB's Training Center, farmers are also trained to shift from monoculture to diversified or integrated farming.

    Hezir Rabaya, YB farm production manager, expressed delight over the accreditation that Yamang Bukid received from the ATI, saying it would allow them to train farmers throughout Palawan, and not only in the provincial capital's Barangay Bacungan where the 1.2-hectare farm is located.

    Farmer-trainees get to be under the tutelage of YB Training Center's trainers and consultants who are experts in the fields of forestry, agronomy, and veterinary medicine, among others.

    With a desire to spread alternative and more efficient farming techniques, YB, which started its farm with only 20 farm workers, is now home to more than 200 farmers and agriculturists. Talking about the new partnership, farmer Sonny Tesado said: "Gusto kong matuto ng ibang paraan ng pagtatanim."

    However, there is a handful of farming families who do not share Tesado's enthusiasm in this fresh farming approach and DA's Maur said this is one of the challenges that YB's Training Center is hoping to address.

    "It's heart-breaking to know that our farmers are starting to age. Their children who have witnessed how hard it was to farm during their time no longer want to go into farming because they have realized there is no money in farming.">

    The YB Training Center aims to break that notion and lure people back into farming.

    YB agriculturist Fernan Hubo said Yamang Bukid aims to instil among their farm workers a "sense of joy" in their work, and emphasize to the next generation — who have otherwise grown skeptic about farming — that plenty of opportunities in agriculture abound.



    "There is money, plenty of money in farming... There is dignity and money," Hubo said.

    "Since we now have an accredited learning site, we will be able to encourage more people to take agriculture and become farmers that follow scientific practices," he added. — YB
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