Ilala & Cotabato's Drought Of A Thousand Days

MANILA: Farmers occupying Main Street and not letting any vehicle pass is not news anymore.


But here they are, at least 6,000 of them occupying the entire road in front of the National Food Authority warehouse in Kidapawan City. Never mind the placards: "Thousands of farmers, Lumad paralyze Cotabato-Davao highway to demand drought relief" – ANN (author not named, 30 March 2016, interaksyon.com). "(They) demand immediate government relief from the six-month drought that has devastated their crops."

Now, now, boys and girls, you are being unreasonable. Considering government on one side, considering you on the other side. There are always at least 2 sides to a controversy.

Side 1, your local government: If your Governor Emmylou Mendoza will desire to provide instant relief, if there are 5,000 farm families in your province and she gives each family P5,000, a measly sum of course, where will she get an instant gargantuan sum of P25 million?!

Side 2, you local farmers: In fact, you have been suffering from the drought in the last 3 years, and not only in the last 5 months or since November of last year, and you have not done anything to fight the drought yourselves.

On 17 April 2013, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) advised you farmers the day before "to brace for possible cuts in irrigation supplies in the coming weeks due to the worsening effects of the continuing dry spell in the area" (ANN, 17 April 2013, interaksyon.com). NIA wasn't joking. What did you do? A thousand days later, I know you didn't do anything.

In fact, the month before that, Provincial Agriculturist Eliseo Mangliwan of North Cotabato reported a total crop damage of almost P70 million, non-recoverable, most of them high-value crops (ANN, 26 March 2013, "Dry spell takes toll on Cotabato farms," manilatimes.net). The number of farmers affected: 4,540. And what did the government do? The Department of Agriculture (DA) Region 12 and Bureau of Soils & Water Management were considering cloud-seeding operations. What?! To induce rain during a drought is at best a droughty proposition. It doesn't hold water!

The week before this new Cotabato rally, Secretary of Agriculture Proceso Alcala assured Cotabato farmers that "the government is addressing their needs to cushion the impact of drought" (22 March 2016, Manila Standard Today, manilastandardtoday.com). But the farmers have gone on with their rally anyway, which means the national government has yet to fulfill whatever it has promised.

I blame the government itself for cultivating mendicancy among the farmers. I blame also the farmers themselves for feeling helpless without government assistance. Being a scholar of agriculture and an original thinker, given the drought, I know that the Cotabato farmers did not conserve water:

(1)     They did not conserve the irrigation water.
(2)     They did not conserve the water from the river.
(3)     They did not conserve the water from the shallow tube well.
(4)     They did not harvest the rain.
(5)     They did not harvest the water from organic matter.

(1)     Irrigation water:
I don't have to have been there as witness. I am witness as to how in Luzon, especially in my home province of Pangasinan, not to mention La Union where we have had 2 years of an extension consultancy with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), those farmers upstream who have access to irrigation water, hold the water in their fields for as long as forever, so that the farmers downstream might as well wait for kingdom come. The farmers over-irrigate and, practicing their centuries-old farming, they expose the bare soil to the relentless rays of the sun half the time the field is growing their rice. Evaporation is a great enemy of the farmers and they don't realize it, because we agriculturists have not been teaching them that.

(2)     River water:
Those farmers who siphon off water from the nearby river or stream are likewise profligate in their use of irrigation water – they don't practice conservation, as if they have all the water in the world for themselves. Wet agriculture is what we teach in our agricultural schools, first of all in the old and new College of Agriculture of the University of the Philippines Los Baños. We are all wet!

(3)     Tube well water:
Those farmers who can afford a shallow tube well (STW) or have been gifted by either the DA or DAR, just like the farmers above, their attitude is one of abundance: The STW shows there is plenty of water underground so why should they worry?

(4)     Rain water:
There must have been rains in those thousand days, but the farmers did not bother to dig enough catch holes or build water-hold structures. We welcome the rain and don't think much of it except that when it doesn't come when we need it.

(5)     Organic water:
Now, I'm going to introduce to you my Ilala, which is acronym for Ilocano local approach to long-life agriculture. I'm talking about the water held by the organic matter in the soil. Actually, I have written several times about this; here are 3 of the immediate past:

"Frank H's Landscape Agriculture: Can you see the water?" (25 March 2016, Frank A Hilario, blogspot.com), where I point out that even the grassy field knows how to conserve water if you allow it; the grass knows it grows on organic matter.

"Here's What We Can Do At Once To Fight Climate Change" (23 March 2016, Frank A Hilario, blogspot.com), where I focus on what I call the heat footprint of a field that is exposed to the sun as much as a ricefield is, for lack of organic matter or cover vegetation.

"Philippines, We Need A New Secretary Of For Climate Change Agriculture" (15 December 2015, Frank A Hilario, blogspot.com), where among others I point out that the watersheds are vital to agriculture for their water and that any good new Secretary ought to already know this.

Ilocano local approach to long-life agriculture: Ilala in Ilocano means concern to save something from being lost. Ilala is not equivalent to the Tagalog word sayang, which means pity or what a waste – and there is no attempt to rescue it from being lost. With Ilala, we Ilocanos make sure that the thing or object in question is safe from disappearing altogether.

The essence of the modern Ilala is organic matter in the soil, your organic soil, which contains your organic water and, with it, all the organic nutrients for your crops. The organic soil is better than your organic fertilizer, which is limited to only a few nutrients and, more importantly, does not give you organic water. Would you believe? Organic matter can hold water up to 20 times its weight! (fao.org). Another way of putting that is this: An increase of 1% organic matter means your soil can hold an additional 170,000 L/ha (Pioneers of Nutrition Farming, blog.nutri-tech.com.au).

So, to apply Ilala, Ilocano-like, you don't need fertilizer or irrigation water to farm a field and harvest plenty. All you need to do as a farmer is to create all over your field a compost pile, which is your organic matter plus soil, which is not only a water-holder but also a nutrient-holder. Again, Ilocano-like, you build this kind of soil at the top of your field with minimum cost: You simply pass the rotavator, big-wheel Howard or small-wheel kuliglig, lightly over your field, over and above the crop leftovers and weeds – no burning please; thereby, you create an organic mulch on your field. And so, if you practice minimum or zero cultivation, you need to spend much less on labor and yet you enjoy much more produce. When you practice Ilala, El Niño or not, there will no longer be drought in your field. If you do Ilala for a thousand days, your soil will never be poor again, and so will you.

The current practices of clean culture in the growing of rice that leaves the field barren except for the rice,  the abuse of irrigation water from whatever source, not harvesting the rain, and not harvesting the water from organic matter, all aggravate drought. Drought of a thousand days brought about by climate change is not the enemy of the farmers – it is drought brought about by primates who refuse to change.



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