Community watersheds: Long-term solution vs. drought

As a long-term solution to the yearly dry spell due to El Niño, the government in partnership with farmers’ groups should construct and develop community watersheds in drought-prone areas.

Thus is the recommendation of former agriculture secretary William Dar, citing the success of community watershed projects in India, where he led for 15 years the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

“With community watershed as a springboard for other interventions, ICRISAT has enabled thousands of farmers in 66 watersheds in India increase their crop yields up to four tons per hectare from a measly one to two tons per hectare,” said Dr. Dar, in a paper he presented at the “Global Food Security Consortium 2016 Annual Symposium,” at Iowa State University, USA, on April 13-14, 2016.

“Effective management of community watersheds should be complemented with the provision of interventions, notably soil rejuvenation or ‘Boochetana,’ quality seeds, and better technologies and cropping systems,” added Dar, who serves as president of InangLupa Movement, an agri-based civil society organization, he founded in January 2015, upon retirement at ICRISAT.

He said the ICRISAT community watershed and Boochetana program has been implemented in India since 2009, covering 3.1 million hectares, and benefited 4.4 million farm families, whose average crop yield increased by up to 66%. In all, its accrued net benefit in four years amounted to US $240 million or about P11 billion.

“The Philippines can also replicate the ICRISAT community watershed and Boochetana model, which in fact, is being piloted in three sites in Quezon, Samar and Zamboanga Sibugay, under the Yamang Lupa program,” Dar said.

Yamang Lupa program is jointly implemented by InangLupa, ICRISAT, and the Department of Agriculture through its Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM), Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), and regional field offices (4-A, 8 and 9).

“Yamang Lupa features community watersheds and Boochetana, and after two years, about 900 participating farmers were able to increase their average yield from 50% to as high 230%, and their average net income to 150%,” Dar noted.

The BSWM has also developed 216 soil health cards, covering 4,927 hectares in the three pilot sites in Samar (Sta. Rita, Basey and Pinabacdao), Sariaya, Quezon, and in RT Lim, Zamboanga Sibugay.

In Samar (Sta. Rita, Basey and Pinabacdao), where 834 farmers volunteered to join ‘Yamang Lupa,’ they increased their harvest of lowland rice by at least 58% and 104% for sweet potato.

In Sariaya, Quezon, involving 48 farmer-cooperators, average yield of onion more than doubled, from 11.6 metric tons per hectare (MT/ha) to 25 MT/ha, for a 115.5% increase.

In RT Lim, Zamboanga Sibugay, with 31 farmer-cooperators, harvest of peanut doubled, from 3.3 MT/ha to 6.75 MT/ha harvest from Yamang Lupa techno-demo farms.

“We are heartened to know of such favorable developments, as we are right all along that the country’s farm soils have to be rejuvenated, and that farmers should adopt modern, yet sustainable ‘Boochetana’ soil and community watershed management technologies,” Dar said.

“We thank Agriculture Secretary Alcala for partnering with ICRISAT to showcase and pilot Boochetana technology in the Philippines, and hopefully expand it nationwide,” said Dar.

Given additional funds, the BSWM said it can increase Yamang Lupa program area to 16,600 hectares (ha), with the bulk in Sariaya, Quezon at 10,000 ha, followed by Samar (5,900 ha), and Zamboanga Sibugay (704 ha).

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