Filipino farmers advised to adapt to erratic rain
By Paul Icamina
Rainfall patterns are changing so much that farming schedules in the Philippines may no longer hold true, a public awareness campaign this month (August) heard.
Timely rainfall is considered vital for the growth and production of food crops. With the world’s climate changing, temperatures are influencing rainfall so that it is in excess in some areas and deficient in others, upsetting traditional farming cycles. Warming is also causing sea-level to rise and turn soils in coastal areas saline.
“The weather is no longer stable,” said Anthony Payonga, dean, Bicol University Graduate School, during the 8—10 August campaign organised by the Department of Science and Technology. “This has deep implications for Philippine agriculture.”
The changing trends were observed three years ago using rain gauges and validated by interviews and historical climate records. “Previously, the rainfall pattern was the same in areas extending 50—100 square kilometres, but now rainfall patterns are different in areas barely 3—4 kilometres away from each other.”
Payonga is lead researcher of the Bicol Agri-Water Project (BAWP), a five-year initiative to increase the knowledge and skills of farmers to adapt to climate change and improve harvests in the watersheds in Camarines Sur and Albay provinces.
“Cropping patterns must change and not just for rice but also for other crops. We can no longer rely on traditional farming knowledge and practices, but farmers continue to plant rice varieties that are susceptible to flooding during the June—July rainy season,” Payonga said.
“Farmers will now know what to do during flood and drought conditions,” says Marissa Estrella, director of the Bicol Consortium for Agriculture and Resources Research and Development, a BAWP research partner. “It brings complicated science down to the level of farmers’ understanding.”
The Bicol region is self-sufficient in rice, contributing seven per cent to national production. However, average yields declined from 3.41 metric tonnes per hectare in 2010 to 3.3 metric tonnes per hectare in 2011 due to “climatic aberrations”.
BAWP developed packages that included the production and distribution of rice varieties meant for areas prone to flooding, drought and salt intrusion, the latter when sea levels rise due to climate change. Buffer stocks now ensure access to quality seeds after extreme weather conditions.
Farmers get timely climate and weather information and provisions have been made for early warning systems, for example against pest infestations. The planting of alternative food crops such as white corn, cassava, sweet potato, banana and root crops is encouraged.
BAWP also set up climate field schools to train farmers. Bayani Abarquez, a farmer in Polangui, Albay province, who attended one of the schools, doubled harvests by using hybrid rice varieties and cropping and hazard calendars. He alternates chemical fertilisers with natural fertilisers and soil conditioners and uses fermented juices of chili, neem and madre de cacao against farm pests.