WHEN it comes to agriculture, the land is a limiting factor in rugged regions, with towering mountain peaks.
Along the gentle mountain slopes, plateaus, and valley bottoms, agriculture competes with housing, industries, businesses, and services like road infrastructures, schools, hospitals, among others.
It is not only space that limits the pursuit of agriculture in our mountainous terrains but the availability of fresh water. As the forest is cleared for all kinds of uses, the mountains lose out on their watershed capacities and ultimately provide less irrigation, potable, and industrial cleaning water.
With the foregoing, profitable farming ventures must be explored, pursued and supported.
Let me highlight some suggestions that came across my way and needs attention by farmers as well as support from the local government units (LGUs), Department of Agriculture (DA), and the academe.
In one of his visits in North Luzon, Secretary Emmanuel Piñol passed by Mountain Province and Ifugao, and on towards Cagayan Valley.
I was informed that the good Secretary saw some coffee trees growing under pine trees along the mountain slopes, in Mountain Province. It may have reinforced what he had heard about coffee thriving well under pine trees.
Secretary Piñol knows that the best Arabica coffee grows in high elevations.
He has tasted Cordillera coffee, too. He told his listeners that it is an outstanding coffee in terms of flavor, and taste.
While in Mountain Province, Secretary Piñol may have wondered why there is not enough being marketed around, and why farmers have yet to cash in on the crop.
Secretary Piñol made a suggestion to Governor Bonifacio Lacwasan to encourage the planting of more coffee by the local farmers. He backed his suggestion with an investment of PHP 5 million, to be distributed to the municipalities at P500,000, so they can put up nurseries where farmers can get some seedlings to grow in their backyards or in their mountain farms.
I heard that the provincial agriculturist of Mountain Province has passed the appropriate documents and the promised funding for the nurseries has long been transferred to them.
The report of the province about the establishment of the nurseries and the growth of the Arabica coffee is much awaited. Even on a backyard scale, we must prove that coffee farming is one venture that highland farmers with limited landholdings can grow together. The investment has not been wasted.
On average, smallholder farmers cultivate from 500-1000 square meters of land to feed their families and send their children to school.
Vegetable and cut flower production proved to be the most viable and profitable agribusiness venture among small farmers in the highlands through greenhouse farming.
This has been proven by the pioneering efforts of cut flower farmers in Bahong, La Trinidad, Benguet; and on vegetable and strawberry production by enterprising farmers like Mr. Francis Ching, of Cada, Mankayan, Benguet.
Over the years, vegetable farmers have requested assistance about their need for greenhouses. They have sent their proposals to the Department of Agriculture-CAR and also personally asked DA Undersecretary Evelyn Lavinia to help them on this.
USec Lavinia has caused the construction of one greenhouse in Atok, and the assistance provided by the DA to greenhouse farming has dramatically increased through the years.
Farmers who experienced greenhouse farming say that it is almost a “perfect farm.”
I have interviewed Mr. Ching several years back and he has this to say about his enterprise: “The beauty of greenhouse farming is that you can sub-divide your lot and schedule production in order to satisfy the demand of the market on a weekly basis, all throughout the year, in a manner that will give you a good income. Greenhouse farming is initially capital intensive and provides employment on a year-round basis, unlike open-field seasonal farming. In the highlands where opening up more forest lands for agriculture is very critical and destructive, greenhouse farming is the best way to grow vegetables for the nation, and provide a livelihood for your family and others.”
Over the last five years, the DA-CAR may have provided 100 greenhouses, more or less, to farmer associations in the region. We are so grateful with one farmer group who came and shared that they are grateful for the assistance in constructing their own greenhouse facility. I take it that the investment was put to good use and they are using the facility for its intended uses.
Mushroom farming does not require a huge piece of land compared to other crops. In fact, housewives can grow mushrooms in the backyard for the household. If one must venture into mushroom farming as a business enterprise, a few square meters of land is enough to have an incubation house and a cropping house. You can make use of the vertical space too since mushrooms don’t grow tall. The DA-CAR has been conducting several pieces of trainings and orientation on mushroom production for about a decade now, and it would be great to hear from the beneficiaries about their successes on mushroom production.
I have been reading and hearing about the accomplishments of the DA’s banner programs on rice, corn, high-value commercial crops, livestock, and organic agriculture in the Cordillera.
If the reports say anything, countless farming ventures were assisted and established in the Cordillera that should make us all happy. Something is amiss from the reports.
Several people, including some farmers, say the DA has done nothing to advance local agriculture concerns and help improve the livelihood of farmers. Some people who know about the projects and annual agricultural development investment in the region wonder if all the effort are all worth it.
I am longing for more farmers who were assisted by the DA and its partners to come out and share their stories to help and inspire others.