THE total area in operation for the production of vegetables during the frost season in Atok, Benguet is 5,578 hectares. Of this total, root vegetables with potatoes and carrots as major commodities, are planted in an area of 2, 613 hectares.
There are several reasons why I highlight those facts. First, they give us a good perspective in forming our opinions about the effect of the changing climate on the lives of our people. It advises us about the nature of the land and the efforts of the locals to survive the challenges that are inherent to the situations they now find themselves handling.
There are 8,151 farmers in Atok. The average land holding is 2,500 square meters. You can conclude that even with the given land space, the limited resources benefits so many farmers and other citizens and their households. In many ways than one, the entire population share in the land’s limited resources for livelihood and habitation purposes. It is unlike in the lowlands where vast tracts of land and its resources belong to powerful landholders and interests.
Temperate vegetables are precious commodities to the local folks here. It is green gold as these are high value crops in the market. It blesses our farmers who grow it in limited land spaces with a favorable climate. So many people including the early Americans, Japanese and Chinese migrants to the place fathered the introduction of temperate vegetable and flower production in these mountains of Northern Philippines with its semi-temperate conditions. The production of these vegetables is concentrated along the vegetable belt traversed by the Halsema highway formerly known as the mountain trail.
In the past, climate has never been a problem in the production of vegetables. The industry has grown big over the years. The climate and its effects, has not affected our farmers that much, like it does now with frost, drought, excessive rain and wind, and flash floods.
The frost season or any production season has its own challenges that need responsible action or response from the public, policy makers and the farmers themselves before these reach catastrophic proportions. In the case of the frost, the producers would rather keep the problems to themselves. In which case, they are on their own. It is too bad a situation as the other sectors have carelessly taken advantage of the farmers and the situations they situations they are in and benefit from at their expense. How could traders, for instance take the frost situation by manipulating prices at the consumers’ expense without any increase in farm gate prices? Why export or smuggle vegetables for the local market when local produce are available and not exhausted? How can media generally report that the province’ vegetable produce is affected by frost without properly explaining such a claim. Affected or damaged by frost are two different things that readers and viewers must understand properly.
In the current frost season (November, December, 2013 to January, February 2014), only the Municipality of Atok reported the occurrence of frost and its effects to the production of vegetables, so far. The Municipality of Bauko in Mountain Province also sent a report about frost damage but the location and real cause of damage needs further validation. Before an act of nature is blamed for the damage, the management of the crops and other factors have to be studied. In warmer areas, leaf blight in potato or clubroot for cabbage are possible culprits not frost. It may be convenient to blame nature when field extension work has not done its work well with the producers.
Going back to Atok, the major root vegetables grown during the current frost season are carrots, potato and radish. Carrots and radish are resistant to frost, potatoes are not. Apparently, farmers know that but why grow potatoes still.
The occurrence of frost has not been a problem in the past as it is now. Potato is a traditional crop among our farmers. This crop is among the temperate vegetable that they adopted in our semi-temperate and even tropical conditions. When it comes to the weather, planting the crop was not so much a problem in the past because nature was an ally to them then. For instance, even without an established water irrigation and management system, the crop thrived with the available moisture in the environment. Water is also constantly available in the creeks and the farmers extensively use water to manage the frost problem.
Today, the situation has changed. The farmers said, frost occurrence has become rather unpredictable and the lack of moisture and water is a problem. The situation has become quite risky for most. Farmers here are industrious and will have their farms into operations in all seasons, as much as it is possible. Today some areas and crops are affected and others damaged by the combined occurrence of frost and drought. In Atok, half of the vegetable area has not planted after the harvest of the frost season crop beginning in December until February of the next year. This reality escapes the imagination of a careless public all these years.
People who do not understand the situation that our farmers go through easily make the conclusion that our farmers are stupid for doing what they do. Well they know more about the weather and the planting of crops in a difficult environment through experience. It is too bad they neither have the means to record these for our learning and continuing analysis in coping with the climate and the challenges of highland survival.
I am constantly challenged writing and saying things on the highland’s natural resources and agriculture. I have no problem with that seeing that I am since engaged in the public debate without the traditional expert credentials or those titles people look for. I am not in this work for organizational power, popularity or financial benefits. People want others to be kicking asses and comforting mouthpieces. In public service and experience, I have gone some distance learning John F. Kennedy’s experience on leadership when he said, “victory has a lot of fathers; defeat has none,” in accepting responsibility for the “Bay of Pigs” fiasco. Doing something and accepting responsibility for our words and actions is what makes sense more than any credentials we could line up so we will look good in public. The farmers are sincerely doing something for family and food production, so let us not require from them, anything beyond their knowledge and experience. Let us not cheat but help them instead with our positions and credentials. In this way, we can be fathers in their victory! We must accept responsibility for our individual defeats but remain as fathers in advancing the victory of our local industries.