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Wednesday, June 26, 2019
BAGUIO

Domoguen: Rethinking agriculture in the Cordillera highlands

Mountain Light

THE practice of agroforestry in the Cordillera began with rice terraces farming if you ask me.

The old practice of having the rice terraces irrigated throughout the year can also be viewed as highland aquaforestry.

I talk about indigenous highland rice terraces farming in this manner, because most of its practices, especially the good ones may have been forgotten, replaced by modern ways and so-called “science-based” farming that somehow negates the forest in the practice of agriculture.

Although the ancient folks simply built their rice farms in the middle of the forest, their practices evolved as a dynamic, ecologically-based, natural resource management system, that ultimately cared for the trees in the muyongs, for instance, above and besides the rice fields.

Indigenous rice terraces farming was not simply about rice production and strategies of increasing harvests with chemical inputs. In truth, actual decreases in harvest started with the application of so-called “scientific” inputs.

In a cluster, some of the old rice terraces were managed as a diversified food production structure for the growing of sweet potatoes, peanuts, corn, and legumes in rotation with rice.

The other food produced in the year-round flooded paddies of the rice terraces cluster included indigenous inland fishes (kachew, native tilapia, kaling or jojo), shells, frogs, and fern vegetables.

In some rice terraces, fruits particularly blueberries grow on the terrace walls.

Wildlife meat (migratory ducks and birds) were hunted in the rice terraces then.

All food, both grown and hunted in the rice terraces were sustained ecologically in their abundance.

An important aspect of the indigenous practice of rice terraces farming is the conservation of the forest and the watersheds as a source of clean irrigation and litter that are converted into organic fertilizers.

In the understanding of the native folks, clean irrigation water is critical to the survival of the diverse life (rice, crops, fishes, and animals in the rice terraces).

Clean forest organic litter and composted animal wastes from the house are healthy food for plants and animals in the rice terraces.

These old practices of clean farming were not documented but were some kind of common sense practice that were lost to the outlook of current-day folks who think they are following modern farming. Even irrigation water can come from anywhere. In some instances, irrigation water carries poisonous waste from the community to the farms.

The value of the watersheds, free from any human encroachments is taken lightly by the younger generations.

Find me a definition of agroforestry and aquaforestry, for that matter, that would completely negate my assertion that indigenous rice terraces farming, as I just described above, is different from the farming practices I mentioned and how these should be understood.

There is another indigenous practice in the Cordillera that must be included in our studies and concepts of agroforestry.

I refer to the practice of “imong” in upper Kalinga. As previously practiced, the “imong” covers a tract of land within the village territory, appropriated by a member for his own use.

The “imong” could originally be a dense or sparse natural forest, grassland or other land use but improved through assisted natural regeneration or planting of selected natural forest trees, industrial and fruit trees together, and other agricultural crops.

The “imong” is protected from forest fires, as well as from encroachment from man and beasts.

The practice of “imong” is disappearing in the ways of the people and from the landscape, except in a few areas where Robusta coffee, bananas, fruit trees, and other agricultural crops are seen to be still thriving under the forest.

In the practice of agroforestry in advanced countries, this indigenous practice is called forest farming.

The way it is undertaken by eco-farmers abroad, forest farming is about the “intentional manipulation of forested lands to produce specific products, most specifically food or medicinal products, although other non-timber forest products are grown and harvested as well.”

In the USA, forest farming is engaged in the production of high-value products (herbal, medicinal, decorative and craft products).

In the USA and Europe, forest farmers also intensively manage and cultivate forest plants that are endangered in the wild due to over-harvesting and protect wild animals at the same time.

In the Philippines, it would do well, to revisit ancient agroforestry and aquaforestry practices and build on these. It is certainly sad listening to assertive college educated agriculturist talk about “science-based farming” that simply sustains poisonous industrial inputs that kill biodiversity and weakens the long-term productivity of the land. They simply promote and sustain plunder-farming that sucks out what remains of the natural resources towards total extinction.

Meanwhile, I consider it a marginalization of sorts for me, when I am but reduced to my complaints.

I still hope and pray that we may yet revisit the old and best farming practices we have experienced and known in these parts. In the process, we rethink our agricultural practices and systems and employ what is best suited to our mountainscapes, to our health, and to our wellbeing as mountain folks.


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