A REPORT published in the local papers last week about rat infestation in Mountain Province betrays a mindset that has not worked well for local agricultural development all these years.
It calls on all stakeholders to reflect on their roles and signals a need for a change in agricultural development activities under a regime of climate change.
The report described the rat infestation in the province' rice terraces along with an order from the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist, Heirloom Rice Program Coordinator for the Department of Agriculture (DA) to do something about this problem.
To be fair, here's the quoted portion of the report: "She called on the DA to introduce a more effective organic way of fighting the pests..."
Mountain Province is clearly home to the production of heirloom rice. It is a major agricultural livelihood that affects many farmers in this province.
Even before Mountain Province joined the Cordillera Heirloom Rice Project, rats have been a problem of farmers in the rice terraces there. Our forefathers controlled the pest with a host of mechanical and organic remedies such as traps laid out along the paddy dikes, night flooding of the paddies, and using scare gadgets and organic poisons. That is still the best organic way of controlling rat infestation in the terraces. We could have documented these practices to build from or improved on.
I was a boy, aged seven, when I joined and lived with my grandfather in northern Sagada. Pest control then was a one-man job in the sense that no matter how wide and scattered your fields are in different mountain backsides, you must watch and carry out timely pest control measures.
That is actually just part of a farmer's commitment to the success of his village livelihood. In truth, pest and disease control is a community-wide pursuit. Each and everyone are compelled to do his part in synchronizing community-wide rat control in the rice fields to be effective. A farmer whose rice fields are visibly overrun by rats is frowned upon, if not scorned by his peers and neighbors. You don't farm rice to feed rats and help infest other fields.
Individual and community commitment to one's duties and responsibilities characterized the basics of rice terraces farming during the days of our forbears. They always succeeded in this venture every cropping season. When it is harvest time, as many able bodied members of the clan come together to gather and bring home the ripened grains. That was then and removed from my place of origin, since my boyhood days, I cannot recall anymore, much less recall, all the indigenous practices my grandfather taught me in this article and thus make its message sharper.
Our old folks had nobody to depend on but only themselves when they built the rice terraces. It is not only the engineering feat of building and irrigating the terraces that they mastered. Rice is a tropical crop that survives with long day length and sufficient sun radiated heat. Rice terraces farming is a wonder because of the indigenous practices and technologies employed by the old folks to breed more than three hundred Java rice species that they used to grow and produce grains under cool mountain conditions.
It may perhaps be argued that I talk about the old days and times have changed. That argument does not hold, best lost in tralala hodgepodge.
The times have changed but the foundations of rice terraces farming remains and taunts those who neglect to attend to them. In my own estimation, the old folks even though unlettered and superstitious, succeeded with a determined attitude and a good work ethic as individuals and as communities. If we don't have this ancestral root anymore, or lost it, or had it corrupted, all the DA's in the world, even scientists, can come to our aid and yet the outcome fails. This is because technology, whether scientific or otherwise, borrowed or self-generated, finds success among people willing to pay its prize with their own tears, sweat, mental discipline and inspiration to make it work.
Like any other agricultural pests, rats cannot be eradicated unless they become extinct. But like other agricultural pests, rats must be monitored and controlled. This frontline responsibility is within the ambit of the LGUs. Some of us at the DA or any agency for that matter welcome being flattered or esteemed as someone being depended upon as "crop pest and disease busters." To the extent that we behave as experts who have all the solutions to every agricultural development problems, we become more than what we really are. Really, it should pain us to be considered and esteemed beyond what is required of us at the expense of local expertise not stepping out to assert its rightful place and becoming more responsive and capable to handle the problems in their own backyards. We have the Devolution Law that demands just that.
That is rather too harsh a statement and I ask the readers' forgiveness. But when will we be able to handle this problem on rat's right? I say this because local agricultural technicians would rather report pest problems such as rats to the press, when these are already in their full-blown stage. That becomes more convenient than sticking to the protocol of field presence, documentation, initial action, coordination and analysis. This is followed by the preparation of interventions, consultations with "da Kapitan and da mayor" to mobilize the community if needed, and/or seeking the assistance of others to mitigate a developing field problem, even a pest, before it becomes intimidating.
When one, some or all of these things are overlooked, the solutions that remain can be dangerous if not futile. Dangerous because full-blown pest and diseases almost always require large-scale chemical operations that endangers all living things. Futile too because of the costs involved to save the remaining crops whose expected yield may come to the table with its integrity lessened, if not corrupted. Very bad because dependent on the farmer, we neglect to properly invest time, technical support and what little finance he needs during critical emergencies.
There is so much work needed in the control of field rats before they overrun their local habitats and create a full-blown field infestation.
Local agricultural development operatives who neglect their primary functions in this concern just can't shout "rat infestation" and blame some others for negligence. This is becoming a repetitive refrain and it does not really solve the problem.
I guess it is time we all return to the drawing board and understand the basics of making agricultural extension work. Maybe it is not the fault of the LGUs and their agricultural technicians. Or a minisculized or bloated DA regional field office, whose management of investments and interventions for agricultural development are dependent on reports, development plans and recommendations from the field (LGUs).
These are difficult times and the problems we currently face are just the tip of the iceberg, according to experts. In a regime of climate change, agriculture will be hard pressed to produce all the food we need with droughts, floods, erratic weather and the emergence of destructive pests and diseases all poised to frustrate food production efforts. Clearly, "business as usual" is no longer reliable.
We need reforms and common sense in the way we undertake agricultural development from top to bottom. Yes common sense because, it can lead us to the reason why rats and worms, whose habitats are increasingly destroyed, take on the fields as their next home or playing grounds.
By the way, if you come to think of it, the vision of the heirloom rice project seeks to bring back the best indigenous practices that sustained the rice terraces throughout the generations. It is believed that such practices will highlight and enhance the real value of the region's heirloom rice and the importance of the rice terraces to watershed protection in Northern Luzon. I believe stakeholders have enough willingness, common sense, and abilities to follow through with that vision.